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‘The Butler’ Plays Younger and Whiter in 2nd Straight Box-Office Win

Oprah Winfrey's civil rights saga tops with $17M. "We're the Millers" is second as three wide openers fail to crack $10M

The audience for "Lee Daniels' The Butler” got younger and whiter as the civil rights saga this weekend rolled to its second consecutive victory at the North American box office.

The Oprah Winfrey-Forest Whitaker historical drama took in an estimated $17 million to easily beat out wide openers "Mortal Instruments: City of Bones,” the horror film "You're Next” and "The World's End,” none of which cracked $10 million over the three days.

"We're the Millers,” the R-rated comedy starring Jennifer Aniston Jason Sudeikis, was second with $13.5 million in its third week. It was on a market-high 3,445 theaters – Warner Bros. expanded it by 120 locations – but that's just a 26 percent drop from last weekend. With a domestic total of $91.7 million, it's a sure bet to hit $100 million now, not bad for a movie that cost $37 million. 

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Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine,” which Sony Pictures Classics expanded from 229 theaters to 1,283, failed to break out but finished ninth overall with $4.3 million.

After "The Butler” played to crowds that were 76 percent over 35 years of age and nearly 40 percent African-American in its $25 million debut last weekend, the numbers dropped to 63 percent and 33 percent in its second week. The gender breakdown — 60 percent female — was steady.

The strong second week — it was down just 31 percent from its first week — and broadening demographic for "The Butler” is good news for the Weinstein Company. It makes an extended run more likely for the film, which is already generating Oscar buzz, and could potentially play through the awards season.

It tells the true story of Eugene Allen (Whitaker), a butler who served in the White House through eight presidential administrations. Oprah plays Allen's wife.

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Disney pulled off just such a similar box-office run in 2011 with "The Help” which dealt with race through the prism of black women working for white families.

It also opened in August and rode a wave of Oscar buzz and stayed in theaters through the awards season, eventually rolling up $170 million domestically and $212 million worldwide. It took in $20 million in its second week, after debuting with $26 million.

"I hesitate to compare it to those kind of numbers,” TWC's distribution chief Erik Lomis told TheWrap, "but this is a very good result and we're looking forward to a long run. We're going to top or come close to $100 million.”

Produced for around $25 million, "The Butler” is up to $52 million domestically in two weeks.

Lomis said he wasn't surprised that the demographic numbers were shifting.

"This really is an important movie and as the word spreads, we think the crowds will get more and more broad," he said. 

Sony's PG-13-rated teen-targeting "Mortal Instruments" finished third with a soft $9.3 million from 2,835 locations over the three days. The supernatural fantasy opened Wednesday and its five-day total is $14 million, in line with the studio's low expectations.

It is the third film this year to target the "Twilight” crowd and come up short. "Beautiful Creatures” and "The Host” misfired earlier.  It scored with its target demographic teen girls (68 percent female, 46 percent under 21), just not enough of them. They gave it a "B+" CinemaScore.

Focus Features' R-rated sci-fi comedy "The World's End" had the best per-screen average of any movie. It  finished finished fourth with $8.9 million from 1,548 theaters. That's $5,773 per-location, topping the $5,472 of "The Butler."

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The third film from Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, in which a group of pals on an epic pub run try to save the world, played young (71 percent under 35) and male (58 percent). It topped the debut of the last effort from the filmmakers, "Hot Fuzz." That one ran up $23 million domestically in 2007 after its opened to $5.8 million. Audiences gave it a "B+” CinemaScore.

Lionsgate's R-rated "You're Next” had a chance to follow "The Purge" and "The Conjuring" as the third low-budget horror film to win a weekend this summer, but came in well under analysts' expectation with $7 million and finished seventh. The critics loved it (80 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes), but audiences gave it just a "B-" CinemaScore.

“Disney's animated "Planes" raised its domestic total to nearly $60 million with its $8.5 million third week and was fifth. Sony’s “Elysium” was sixth with $7.1 million and has brought in almost $70 million after three weeks.

Fox’s teen fantasy "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters" was eighth with $5.2 million and last week's No. 2 film, Universal’s R-rated teen action comedy ‘Kick Ass 2,” fell off sharply and wound up 10th with $4.2 million.

The summer will be the biggest ever in terms of domestic grosses, but with the blockbusters in the rear view mirror, business has slowed dramatically. To put things in perspective, the $91 million total for the top 12 movies is just over half of what "Iron Man 3" debuted with to open the season in May.

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