"Contagion" catches box office lead

Sun Sep 11, 2011 3:10pm EDT
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By Lisa Richwine

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Contagion" gripped filmgoers as the thriller about the race to contain a deadly virus took hold of the top spot at the domestic box office and knocked hit drama "The Help" to second place.

"Contagion" brought in an estimated $23.1 million at U.S. and Canadian theaters over its first three days, distributor Warner Bros. said on Sunday. Six international markets added another $2.1 million.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the film tells the story of a fast-spreading killer virus and scientists' efforts to stop it as the body count rises. The movie features an all-star cast that includes Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne and Jude Law.

The film beat studio expectations by telling "a tough story in a provocative way. There is nothing more icky than this," said Jeff Goldstein, executive vice president of domestic distribution for Warner Bros.

Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the movie a B- rating on average.

"The Help," a critics and audience favorite about black maids who speak out about white employers in civil rights-era Mississippi, slipped to second place after three straight weeks as the box-office leader. The film soaked up $8.7 million, pushing up its domestic receipts to $137.1 million since the book adaptation hit theaters five weeks ago.

"Warrior," a new drama about two brothers who battle for victory and redemption in a mixed-martial arts tournament, finished third with a disappointing $5.6 million. The brothers, a war veteran played by Tom Hardy and a high-school teacher and father played by Joel Edgerton, face wounds from the past as their estranged father, portrayed Nick Nolte, works as one of their coaches.

The film earned an A from audiences polled by CinemaScore and positive reviews from critics.   Continued...