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Thanks to Hurricane Irene, Weekend Box Office Plunges 20%

”The Help“ nets $4.4 million on Friday and should beat a trio of new releases, but a traditionally weak weekend for movies just got bleaker

A category 2-sized disruption in the form of Hurricane Irene will likely result in one of the most dismal box office weekends of the year. 

All told, the box office is looking to be down nearly 20 percent from where it was last year, as nervous East Coasters hole up in their homes and leave movie-going for a less apocalyptic weekend. 

For the time being, “The Help” continues to win over audiences, with the Civil Rights drama beating back challenges from a trio of lightweights to hold onto the box office top spot on Friday night.

Also read: Hurricane Irene: AMC, Clearview Closing Theaters; Broadway Goes Dark

Now in its third weekend of release, the mid-budget DreamWorks picture racked up $4.4 million on Friday in 2,778 locations and is on pace to take the top slot with a $15.5 million gross over the three-day frame. 

To reach that number, however, the inspirational-drama-that-could faces a threat far graver than “Columbiana”s’ pistol packing Zoe Saldana.

With the hurricane barreling toward the East Coast, theater chains such as AMC and Clearview will begin shuttering locations along the Eastern seaboard throughout Saturday and plan to remain closed the rest of the weekend.

All told, the storm could affect 50 million Americans from North Carolina to New England, leaving residents in major markets such as Boston and New York City more concerned with hording canned goods than checking out “Our Idiot Brother.” That means that what has traditionally been a down weekend for box office, looks to be bleaker still.

In the wake of “The Help”s’ strong showing, the bevy of new releases were left duking it out for the second spot in the weekend top ten.

Revenge drama “Columbiana” eked past horror film “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” to achieve runner-up status. Sony's PG-13 rated thriller netted $3.8 million on Friday in 2,614 theaters and should meet modest projections with a $10 million gross over the weekend.

Penned and produced by Guillermo del Toro, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” looks to fall just short of studio estimates after a $3.6 million Friday in 2,760 theaters. In a summer that has been particularly brutal for horror films, the modestly budgeted chiller should rack up slightly north of $9 million over the three days.

That leaves the raunchy comedy “Our Idiot Brother” as the odd man out. Picked up by the Weinstein Company for $6 million at Sundance, the Paul Rudd film will make back its acquisition costs over its opening weekend — but just. The film pulled in $2.4 million on Friday and is on pace to make $6.6 million over the three day period.  

Hold over "The Rise of the Planet of The Apes" lapped "Our Idiot Brother" to grab fourth place, earning $2.6 million on Friday. The primate prequel is tracking to earn $9 million over the weekend in 3,374 locations. 

With Mother Nature flexing her muscles, it's a stormy weekend for the box office and a much cloudier picture than the same period last year when "Takers" and "The Last Exorcism" both bested projections to debut to north of $20 million.