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‘Contagion’ Is Weekend’s Top Movie, Ending Three-Week Reign of ‘The Help’

“Contagion,” Steven Soderbergh’s thriller about a global epidemic, generated $23.1 million for Time Warner Inc. (TWX), to lead the box office in the U.S. and Canada.

“Warrior,” Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. (LGF)’s mixed martial arts drama, made its debut in third place, taking in $5.6 million in U.S. and Canadian ticket sales, Hollywood.com Box- Office said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.

“Contagion,” kicks off the fall movie-going season on a mature note after a summer filled with superheroes and 3-D spectacles. The movie, featuring stars like Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet and Laurence Fishburne, drew audiences partly because the alternatives were so lackluster, said Gitesh Pandya, the editor of movie-tracker BoxOfficeGuru.com.

“In ‘Contagion’ you had good marketing, a great concept, a lot of star power, and disaster movies usually sell very well,” he said. “You also had a lack of competition. There was nothing else really to see, so this was the only game in town.”

The weekend following the U.S. Labor Day holiday is typically one of the slowest of the year, as more people tune into professional football on Sundays and college football on Saturdays, Pandya said.

“Contagion,” a medical thriller, follows the global spread of a disease from the viewpoints of the characters. The movie showcases the ensemble cast, which also includes Jude Law and Marion Cotillard. The film’s debut exceeded Pandya’s forecast for about $19 million.

‘Warrior’

Finishing second was Walt Disney Co. (DIS)’s “The Help,” a civil rights-era drama about black maids in the racially segregated South. It had sales of $8.69 million and has collected $137.1 million since its Aug. 10 release. The movie has become a surprise hit and is now benefiting from early Oscar buzz, Pandya said.

“Warrior,” starring Tom Hardy, Nick Nolte and Joel Edgerton, is a drama about two brothers, both fighters, on a path to meet in a high-stakes championship bout. Nolte plays the alcoholic father who trains one son and is estranged from the other.

The movie’s average per-theater take of $3,000 was just “passable” for a “young-male-skewing film,” Pandya said.

“Even though it got great reviews and has been getting good buzz, it’s just so hard to reach male audiences right now because of football,” Pandya said. “You also have kids going back to school, so the population of younger people is not available as much.”

‘The Debt’

“The Debt,” an espionage thriller, ranked fourth with $4.9 million after opening the prior weekend in second place.

The 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. Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, and Sam Worthington are featured. The film has generated $22 million in two weeks.

Sony Corp. (6758)’s “Colombiana” was fifth with $4 million in receipts.

Weekend revenue for the top 12 films rose less than 1 percent to $66.4 million from the year-earlier period, Hollywood.com said. Domestic box-office receipts this year have declined to $7.57 billion, while attendance is down 6 percent.

The amounts below are based on actual ticket sales for Sept. 9 and Sept. 10 and estimates for yesterday.

                       Rev.            Avg./   Pct.   Total
Movie                 (mln)  Theaters  Theater Chg.   (mln)  Wks
================================================================
1 CONTAGION            $23.1   3,222   $7,180   --    $23.1   1
2 THE HELP               8.69  2,935    2,961   -40   137.1   5
3 WARRIOR                5.60  1,869    3,000   --      5.6   1
4 THE DEBT               4.90  1,876    2,614   -51    21.9   2
5 COLOMBIANA             4.00  2,354    1,699   -46    29.8   3
6 RISE OF PLANET OF APES 3.88  2,887    1,342   -51   167.8   6
7 SHARK NIGHT            3.53  2,848    1,241   -58    14.8   2
8 APOLLO 18              2.91  3,330      875   -67    15.0   2
9 OUR IDIOT BROTHER      2.76  2,396    1,152   -49    21.4   3
10 SPY KIDS 4            2.50  2,544      985   -48    34.2   4
11 DON’T BE AFRAID DARK  2.26  2,251    1,004   -56    21.1   3
12 CRAZY, STUPID LOVE    2.18  1,310    1,664   -34    78.4   7


Top 12 Films Grosses:

   This Week     Year Ago      Pct.
     (mln)         (mln)       Chg.
===================================
      $66.4         $65.8      0.88

Year-to-date Revenue:

     2011          2010
      YTD           YTD        Pct.
     (mln)         (mln)       Chg.
===================================
   $7,568.9      $7,883.5     -3.99


Year-to-date Attendance:      -6.02%

To contact the reporter on this story: Anthony Palazzo in Los Angeles at apalazzo@bloomberg.net; Bradley Keoun in New York at bkeoun@bloomberg.net.

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

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