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Hurricane Irene Batters Weekend Box Office: ‘The Help’ Prevails Over Newbies

DreamWorks’ “The Help” spends a second weekend at No. 1; Sony’s “Colombiana” debuts at second place with only $10 million

Hurricane Irene has turned what had looked like it would be a wan weekend at the box office into a miserable one, with low estimates falling even lower.

The total weekend gross was down some 20 percent from the same weekend last year — and down 26 percent from last weekend.

With movie theaters in the mid-Atlantic and northeast shutting down, it’s not yet even clear how many locations were open.

"It's a crazy weekend, and I don't know that anyone's going to have a perfect sense of how it all comes out until even tomorrow," Dave Hollis, Disney's executive vice president of distribution, told TheWrap Sunday morning. "The estimate from Rentrak yesterday was about a thousand theaters affected."

Even without the storm, none of the three films that opened in wide release were expected to gross impressive sums, and DreamWorks’ “The Help” — in its third weekend — was the No. 1 movie at theaters with $14.33 million, according to studio estimates.

A mere $10.3 million was enough to make Sony Pictures “Colombiana,” a PG-13 action film starring Zoe Saldana, the second-biggest movie of the weekend.

In its fourth week in release, Fox's "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" was in third place, grossing $9 million, according to rival studio estimates.

FilmDistrict’s “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” an R-rated remake of ABC’s 1973 television horror movie, took in an estimated $8.689 million, putting it in fourth place.

And the Weinstein Co.’s R-rated comedy “Our Idiot Brother,” was a big disappointment at just $6.588 million — enough to cover what the Weinstein Co. and Ron Burkle’s YUK Films paid for it at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The sum put “Idiot” at fifth place.

Most of the numbers were disappointing, although "Colombiana" beat studio expectations.

Also Read: The Help: The Box Office Hit That Nearly Didn't Get Made

Sony figured it’d take in around $8 million, while outside estimates had it grossing up to $14 million.

“Don’t Be Afraid” was projected to take in between $10 million and $13 million, and “Idiot” was looking at $9 million to $12.5 million, with the Weinstein Co. hoping for anything in the double digits.

But everybody has an excuse this weekend: The storm shut down as many as 1,000 theaters on the east coast, and the New York subway system. On Saturday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered more than 370,000 people to evacuate low-lying areas of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens.

The storm is being blamed for nine deaths, and for cutting power to more than 4 million homes and businesses so far.

So people along Irene's path had more pressing concerns than the movies.

By mid-day on the East Coast, Irene had now been downgraded, and was moving into New England as a tropical storm.

"Our key large urban East Coast markets were really killed and many theaters were closed or were dead even if they remained open," FilmDistrict's president of theatrical distribution, Bob Berney, said in a written statement. "The E-Walk on 42nd Street in Manhattan gross was $20,800 on Friday and $0 on Saturday."

There's a chance the third and fourth-place movies, "Planet of the Apes" and "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" could switch places. FilmDistrict's estimate counts on the movie taking in $2 million on Sunday.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment was "Our Idiot Brother."

Erik Lomis, the Weinstein Co.'s president of theatrical and home distribution, told TheWrap that the movie, which received a C+ CinemaScore, showed its strongest numbers in New York, so it was hit especially hard.

"The exit polls we did in New York were great," he said. "Way above the norms. And the business just shut down."

On top of that, the Paul Rudd comedy appealed to the above-25 crowd.

"We played older," Lomis said. "We're much more susceptible to the market conditions and the weather conditions than youth films."

He said there's no new comedy being released next week, and that he hopes the film will rebound.

"What we're disappointed most about is just a missed opportunity," he said, adding that the movie was an acquisition and most of the costs were offset by foreign sales.

"We thought we were going to hit it out of the park and it's a single."

Sony was more upbeat.

"We certainly weathered the storm and made it through with a very strong opening," Rory Bruer, Sony's president of worldwide distribution, told TheWrap. "And Zoe Saldana — she kills in the movie. No pun intended."

Saldana plays a woman who grew up to be an assassin after witnessing the murder of her parents as a child.

"Colombiana" grossed $3.735 million on Friday and $3.77 million on Saturday. The studio expected it to take in about $2.8 million Sunday. The demographic was similar to tha for "Our Idiot Brother."

"Our Idiot Brother's" audience was 70 percent 25 and older and 55 percent female. "Colombiana's" was 65 percent 25 and older and 57 percent female.

The thriller, directed by Olivier Megaton, had a budget estimated at $40 million.

Sony's other reason to feel good: Its "Bad Teacher," made for an estimated $20 million, crossed the $200 million mark worldwide over the weekend.

Disney, which distributes DreamWorks movies, is looking forward to the next few days.

Also read: How 'The Help' Grew From Women's Flick to Box-Office Powerhouse

Hollis said that heat in the south and west drove people in areas of the country that were not affected by the hurricane into movie theaters.

"The Help" added 88 theaters since last week and is expected to cross the $100 million mark Tuesday or Wednesday.

"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark," had a C- CinemaScore and a budget estimated at $28 million. It also had Troy Nixey directing a script by Guillermo del Toro. The movie did especially well in markets with large Latino populations, according to FilmDistrict.

Top markets were New York — such as it was — Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco Bay area, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix and Miami.

Here's how the top 10 movies shaped up this weekend:

"The Help" ($14.33m)
"Colombiana" ($10.3m)
"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" ($9m)
"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" ($8.689m)
"Our Idiot Brother" ($6.588m)
"Spy Kids: All the Time in the World" ($5.727m)
"The Smurfs" ($4.8m)
"Crazy, Stupid Love" ($3.272m)
"Conan the Barbarian" ($3.1m)
"Fright Night (3D)" ($3m)