"The Help" wins box office, summer hits record

Mon Sep 5, 2011 3:08pm EDT
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By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The maids of "The Help" didn't take the Labor Day weekend off. The surprise summer hit held firm at the top of the domestic box office for the third straight week with $19 million in ticket sales.

The drama about white women and their black maids in Civil Rights-era Mississippi polished off three new films based on four-day estimates released by movie studios on Monday, the U.S. Labor Day holiday that ended a record summer at U.S. and Canadian theaters. "The Help," a critics favorite that debuted a month ago in the No. 2 spot, was produced by DreamWorks and distributed by Walt Disney Co.

Newcomers including two horror flicks generated modest sales on a weekend traditionally slow for movie-going.

Spy thriller "The Debt," starring Helen Mirren, took second place with a better-than-expected $12.6 million in the North American (U.S. and Canadian) market. The film tells the story of the hunt for a Nazi war criminal and how the mission haunts a trio of secret agents three decades later. The film drew an older audience with 70 percent of moviegoers over age 40, distributor Focus Features said.

The studio released the movie on Wednesday, and estimated domestic sales since it debuted reached $14.5 million.

Space mystery "Apollo 18," a new release that purports to use "found footage" of an ill-fated trip to the moon, came in third for the weekend with $10.7 million. That fell within studio projections for a film that cost less than $5 million to make, said Erik Lomis, president of distribution for The Weinstein Co, which released the film.

Following behind at No. 4 was new thriller "Shark Night (3-D)," a tale of nightmarish fresh-water shark attacks at a Louisiana lake house, with $10.3 million, at the higher end of industry expectations. Aimed at teens, the film drew 57 percent of its audience from an under-25 crowd.

Sci-fi flick "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" stayed strong, rounding out the top five with $10.3 million during its fifth weekend in theaters.   Continued...