"The Help" holds on at top of storm-hit box office

Mon Aug 29, 2011 11:05am EDT
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By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The hard-working maids of "The Help" hung on to the top of a storm-battered box office over the weekend and beat a trio of new releases with $14.3 million in domestic ticket sales, studio estimates released on Sunday showed.

Hurricane Irene forced the closure of theaters in big markets such as New York and kept moviegoers home along a broad stretch of the East Coast. Domestic ticket sales came in 23 percent lower than the same weekend a year earlier, according to figures from Hollywood.com.

"The Help," a drama about black housekeepers in Civil Rights-era Mississippi, took the top spot in the North American (U.S. and Canadian) market for the second straight weekend. The DreamWorks-produced film adaptation of a best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett has grossed $96.6 million since it opened three weeks ago, distributor Walt Disney Co said.

The bad weather did not help new releases on a late summer weekend that was expected to be slow even without a major storm.

Action movie "Colombiana" debuted in second place with an estimated $10.3 million, ahead of studio forecasts of around $8 million. The film features actress Zoe Saldana as a woman who witnesses her parents' murder as a child in Bogota and grows up to be an assassin seeking revenge.

"The picture is off to a good start, storm or no storm," said Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution for Columbia Pictures, a unit of Sony Corp that released the film.

Horror movie "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," starring Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce, finished third with domestic sales of $8.7 million.

"Our key large urban East Coast markets were really killed" by the hurricane, said Bob Berney, president of theatrical distribution for FilmDistrict. For example, the movie took in nearly $21,000 at one Manhattan theater on Friday and zero on Saturday, Berney said.   Continued...