Viola Davis stars in "The Help." (Dale Robinette, MCT )
A crop of four new diverse films arrived in theaters this weekend, but audiences flocked to "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," which stood strong at the box office yet again.
After reigning over the competition last weekend, the prequel to the 1968 movie about simians who overtake the Earth saw its ticket sales drop a moderate 50% to $27.5 million, according to an estimate from distributor 20th Century Fox. That sum raised the picture's domestic tally to $104.9 million after 10 days in theaters.
None of the new films that debuted this weekend saw equally positive results, with the exception of "The Help," an adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's bestselling novel about civil rights in 1960s Mississippi. The movie — which opened midweek to build buzz before the crowded weekend — collected $25.5 million between Friday and Sunday, bringing its overall total to $35.4 million.
Meanwhile, "Final Destination 5," the latest 3-D installment in the popular horror franchise, grossed a decent $18.4 million. The dark R-rated comedy "30 Minutes or Less" came in with a so-so $13 million, while "Glee: The 3-D Concert Movie" ended up with a disappointing $5.7 million.
"The Help," about a young white woman who writes a book about the struggles of a group of African American maids, resonated most with older women. The crowd who showed up to the picture was 74% female, and 60% of the audience was older than 35. Those who saw the film loved it, giving it a perfect average grade of A+, according to market research firm CinemaScore. "The Help" is the only film this year to receive that score besides the inspirational teen drama "Soul Surfer."
The movie is already off to a strong start, considering it was financed by Dreamworks SKG and Participant Media for $25 million. The picture, being distributed by Walt Disney Pictures, also seems to be resonating with a diverse audience. The local theater in Jackson, Miss., where the story takes place, sold the second-highest number of tickets to the film of any theater in the country this weekend. The movie also did solid business in Memphis, Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas.
Disney is hopeful that the movie might follow in the footsteps of 2009's "The Blind Side," which was also based on a popular book, dealt with race issues and ultimately went on to earn a best picture nomination at the Academy Awards.
"Certainly we don't want to get excited too soon, but that movie had a great run, and we're off to the kind of start that could set us up for something parallel," said Dave Hollis, the studio's executive vice president of distribution, referring to "The Blind Side's" worldwide box office tally of $309.2 million. "It played great upscale, urban, and in the heartland, so we're hopeful that, with good word-of-mouth, we'll have a few months of really good box office."
The fifth "Final Destination" movie, about teenagers ever attempting to cheat death, did not fare nearly as well as the most recent entry in the scary series. The fourth film started with $27.4 million in 2009, fueled largely by 3-D ticket receipts. Filmgoers — albeit far fewer of them — were willing to shell out a few extra bucks to see "Final Destination 5" in the pricier format as well, with 75% of this weekend's business coming from 3-D.
But it remains to be seen whether the movie — whose young male audience gave it an average grade of B+ — will be able to reach the $186.2-million worldwide total of "The Final Destination." Fortunately, because of its largely unknown cast and director, Warner Bros.' New Line Cinema label was able to ratchet down the budget on the fifth picture nearly $10 million from the fourth film to around $40 million.
Of all the R-rated comedies to hit theaters this summer, "30 Minutes or Less" had one of the lowest openings. The film's debut came in far below that of sleeper hits such as "Bridesmaids" and "Horrible Bosses," but the movie should fare decently given its modest budget. Media Rights Capital spent around $28 million to make the movie, which Sony Pictures later acquired and is distributing worldwide.
The film, starring Jesse Eisenberg as a pizza delivery guy who is kidnapped, strapped with a ticking bomb and told to rob a bank, was assigned an average grade of B by those who saw it. The film proved to be most appealing to young men, because 58% of the crowd was male and 69% was younger than 25.
As far as concert films go, "Glee" had a particularly weak opening. The movie got off to an even worse start than "Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience," a 2009 film that ended up with a dismal $23.2 million in global ticket sales. And the movie didn't even come close to replicating the first weekend performance of "Never Say Never," a 3-D concert film about young pop star Justin Bieber that opened to $29.5 million in February and ultimately sold $98.4 million in tickets worldwide.
The self-proclaimed "Gleeks" who saw the film – a 79% female crowd — loved it, giving it an average grade of A. Unfortunately for Fox, not enough of them showed up to buy the more expensive tickets to the movie, which is playing only in 3-D theaters for two weeks. Still, the studio spent only about $9 million to produce the film, which shows "Glee" cast members performing musical numbers from the Fox TV program during a recent concert tour.
"It's not an episode of the television show," said Fox's senior vice president of distribution, Chris Aronson. "Maybe the word will get out that this is an extremely satisfying piece of entertainment."