Hollywood Finishes Lackluster Summer With Lift From ‘Help’

“The Help” topped the U.S. box office for a third weekend, taking in $19.9 million for Walt Disney Co. (DIS) and DreamWorks Studios over the four-day Labor Day holiday to close out a lackluster summer for Hollywood.

“The Debt,” an espionage thriller, opened in second place with $12.9 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales, researcher Hollywood.com Box-Office said today in an e-mailed statement. Weinstein Co.’s “Apollo 18,” also making its debut, was third with $10.7 million.

“The Help,” a civil rights-era drama that rose to No. 1 in its second week, underscores Hollywood’s challenge in keeping up with changes in audiences’ tastes. While studios bet heavily on 3-D and superhero movies, total revenue for the summer season grew less than 1 percent to $4.38 billion. “The Help” and “Bridesmaids,” a screwball comedy also led by women, were among the surprise winners.

“Given how much 3-D was out there, it should have made more money,” said Brandon Gray, president of Box Office Mojo, another industry tracker. “3-D has been a gimmick in the past, and there’s no evidence to suggest it’s much more than a gimmick now.”

The summer movie season produced record revenue, as higher prices for three-dimensional films countered a drop in attendance, Hollywood.com said. The growth hasn’t been enough to lift year-to-date sales, which were down 4.1 percent to $7.46 billion. Attendance fell 1.4 percent for the summer season and is down 5.1 percent year-to-date.

‘Potter,’ Allen

Summer 2011 was marked by notable successes, as well as duds. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2,” from Time Warner Inc. (TWX)’s Warner Bros., is the top-grossing 2011 film as of Sept. 5, with $1.31 billion in worldwide ticket sales since its July 15 release, according to Box Office Mojo.

Director Woody Allen scored his highest-grossing film ever with “Midnight in Paris,” which has collected $98.9 million worldwide for Sony Corp. (6758) since its May 20 release.

Superheroes didn’t always fare as well with fans as they did against villains.

“Thor,” from Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel division, led the pack with $448.5 million in worldwide sales against a production budget estimated at $150 million by Box Office Mojo.

Green Lantern” from Warner Bros. managed $214 million in worldwide sales compared with its $200 million production cost.

“The big bets of the summer were largely disappointing,” Gray said.

‘The Help’

Viacom Inc. (VIA/B)’s Paramount Pictures, benefiting from agreements to distribute films from Marvel and DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. (DWA), leads the box office this year with domestic revenue of $1.42 billion, according to Box Office Mojo. Warner Bros. is second at $1.35 billion, led by “Harry Potter” and “The Hangover II.”

This past weekend, “The Help” was first after debuting four weeks ago in second place. The film about black maids in the racially segregated South has collected $124.3 million since its Aug. 10 release.

Second place’s “The Debt,” a Miramax movie distributed by Comcast Corp. (CMCSA)’s Focus Features, tells the story of three Israeli Mossad secret agents and their efforts in 1966 to track down a Nazi war criminal. The film opens in 1997, as two of the now- retired spies, played by Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson, learn shocking news about their third colleague. Sam Worthington is also featured.

New Releases

“Apollo 18” uses what appears to be decades-old NASA footage of a mission that never actually occurred to reveal why the U.S. has stopped sending people to the moon. The last of the real manned lunar missions was Apollo 17, which launched in December 1972.

Relativity Media LLC’s “Shark Night 3D” opened in fifth place with $10.1 million. In the movie, a weekend at a lake house in the Louisiana Gulf turns into a nightmare as sharks in fresh water set upon seven vacationers.

The movie cost about $28 million to make, according to IMDB.com.

“Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” the prequel to the 1968 classic, fell to fourth from third, taking in $10.3 million in receipts. The movie from News Corp. (NWSA)’s Twentieth Century Fox revives the franchise that began with the original film about a world where apes dominate humans.

The film features James Franco and has taken in $162.6 million since it opened Aug. 5.

Weekend revenue for the top 12 films rose 5.6 percent to $107.1 million over the four-day U.S. holiday from the year- earlier period, Hollywood.com said.

The amounts below are based on actual ticket sales for Sept. 2 through yesterday.

                     Rev.            *Avg./   *Pct.   Total
Movie               (mln) Theaters  Theater    Chg.   (mln)  Wks
================================================================
 1 THE HELP        $19.9   2,843    $6,993       0    $124.3   4
 2 THE DEBT         12.9   1,826     7,038      --      14.8   1
 3 APOLLO 18        10.7   3,328     3,217      --      10.7   1
 4 PLANET OF APES   10.3   3,193     3,234     -11     162.6   5
 5 SHARK NIGHT      10.1   2,806     3,609      --      10.1   1
 6 COLOMBIANA        9.6   2,614     3,661     -28      24.1   2
 7 OUR IDIOT BROTHER 7.0   2,555     2,755     -22      17.3   2
 8 SPY KIDS 4        6.8   3,007     2,262     -20      31.2   3
 9 DON’T BE AFRAID   6.4   2,780     2,296     -39      17.9   2
10 SMURFS            5.7   2,706     2,115     -14     133.7   6
11 CRAZY,STUPID,LOVE 4.3   1,450     2,939       6      75.5   6
12 HARRY POTTER      3.4   1,092     3,115      -4     375.6   8

*Percentage change is based on three-day total while average
per theater is based on four days


Top 12 Films Grosses

   This Week     Year Ago      Pct.
     (mln)         (mln)       Chg.
===================================
    $107.1        $101.4       +5.6


Year-to-date Revenue

     2011          2010
      YTD           YTD        Pct.
     (mln)         (mln)       Chg.
===================================
    $7,462        $7,780      -4.1

Year-to-date Attendance:     -5.1%

To contact the reporter on this story: Rob Golum in Los Angeles at rgolum@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net.

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