Oprah's 'Butler' cleans up with $25 million at box office

Sun Aug 18, 2013 2:08pm EDT
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By Lisa Richwine and Chris Michaud

LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK (Reuters) - "Lee Daniels' The Butler," a civil rights drama starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, surpassed expectations and easily won the weekend box office battle, debuting with $25 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales through Sunday.

Jennifer Aniston comedy "We're the Millers" finished in the No. 2 slot, earning $17.8 million in its second weekend, according to studio estimates. Last weekend's box office leader, Matt Damon sci-fi thriller "Elysium," fell to third place with $13.6 million.

"Kick-Ass 2," a comedy sequel about a pair of teenage crime-fighting superheroes, languished in fourth place with $13.6 million in its first three days.

Ahead of the weekend, box office forecasters had predicted a close race between "The Butler" and "Kick-Ass," with projections for each running as high as $20 million-plus.

But audiences gravitated to "The Butler," a critically praised drama directed by Lee Daniels and featuring talk show host Winfrey in her first acting role in 15 years.

The film is inspired by the life of Eugene Allen, an African-American who served as a White House butler to eight U.S. presidents. Whitaker plays the butler opposite Winfrey as his chain-smoking, hard-drinking wife, Gloria.

Entertainment mogul Winfrey promoted the film to her large fan base through media interviews and on her cable network, OWN. Seventy-two percent of "Butler" ticket buyers said Winfrey's role increased their interest in the film, according to a poll on the Fandango movie website.

Both Winfrey and Whitaker won applause from critics, with 73 percent recommending "The Butler" in reviews collected on the Rotten Tomatoes website.   Continued...

Actors David Oyelowo and Oprah Winfrey, cast members of the film "Lee Daniels' The Butler", pose at the film's premiere in Los Angeles August 12, 2013. REUTERS/Fred Prouser