On a weekend when the big box office monster was predicted to be Hurricane Irene, it was the housemaids of 'The Help' who, once again, cleaned up after the mess was over. For the second week in a row, 'The Help' was No. 1, with an estimated $14.3 million, fending off newcomers 'Colombiana,' 'Don't Be Afraid of the Dark' and 'Our Idiot Brother.'

While Irene's damper affect on moviegoing throughout the East Coast was expected to throw box office predictions to the wind, Sunday's projections suggest that the storm didn't have as much impact as feared. Totals for most of the top films came in about $1 to $2 million lower than mid-week predictors had guessed. Still, no one was surprised by 'The Help''s repeat victory. After three weeks in theaters, it's still playing on more screens than any of the newcomers, and its strong word-of-mouth ensured that it declined only 28 percent from last weekend. To date, the period dramedy has earned $96.6 million.


The strongest newcomer was 'Colombiana,' opening at No. 2. Despite the hurricane, it did as well as predicted, opening with an estimated $10.3 million. The film is a fairly generic, modestly-budgeted action thriller, and despite her prominent roles in 'Avatar' and 'Star Trek,' Zoe Saldana is an unproven box office draw. Even after the storm-resistant premiere, the results for Saldana remain a wash, since no one expects much from these late-August movies. Still, the movie could hold up well through Labor Day, given the absence of serious competition next weekend.


'Don't Be Afraid of the Dark' opened in third place, thanks largely to the horror cred of co-screenwriter and producer Guillermo del Toro. (Sorry, Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce, but you're not box office draws.) In fact, del Toro's name and the lack of horror competition (sorry, 'Fright Night,' but even though you opened just last week, you're already a non-entity) led pundits to predict a second-place finish for this one at around $10 million. Instead, it had to settle for a storm-lashed $8.69 million, according to studio estimates.

In fact, 'Dark' may end up in fourth place once final weekend numbers are released on Monday. Its estimated take was just $39,000 ahead of that for 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' Its $8.65 million estimate is down 46 percent from last weekend, typical for a summer hit in its fourth week of release. Since its debut at the beginning of August, 'Apes' has scored $148.5 million.

Opening in fifth place was 'Our Idiot Brother,' with an estimated $6.6 million. That's about $2 million lower than expected. Despite the appeal of Paul Rudd (who was ubiquitous promoting the film this week), the movie had middling word-of-mouth. It comes at the tail end of this summer's long list of R-rated comedies; after 'The Change-Up' tanked three weeks ago, it became clear that this market has been saturated.

Total box office for the weekend came to $91.0 million, down a full 21 percent from the same weekend last year, which saw the releases of two hits, heist drama 'Takers' and horror film 'The Last Exorcism.' Irene may have walloped the box office, but even without the hurricane, this weekend's offerings just weren't as strong.

'The Help' - Trailer No. 1

The full top 10:
1. 'The Help,' $14.3 million (2,778 screens), $96.6 million total
2. 'Colombiana,' $10.3 million (2,614), new release
3. 'Don't Be Afraid of the Dark,' $8.69 million (2,760), new release
4. 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes,' $8.65 million (3,374), $148.5 million
5. 'Our Idiot Brother,' $6.6 million (2,555), new release
6. 'Spy Kids: All the Time in the World,' $5.7 million (3,305), $21.7 million
7. 'The Smurfs,' $4.8 million (2,861), $126.0 million
8. 'Conan the Barbarian,' $3.1 million (3,015), $16.6 million
9. 'Fright Night,' $3.0 million (3,114), $14.2 million
10. 'Crazy, Stupid, Love,' $2.9 million (1,577), $69.5 million

Follow Gary Susman on Twitter: @garysusman.

Photo credits: DreamWorks ('The Help'), Sony ('Colombiana'), FilmDistrict ('Don't Be Afraid of the Dark')