Weekend Box Office (September 9 - 11, 2011)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Grossing as much as the rest of the top five combined, the virus thriller Contagion opened at number one topping a sluggish frame that saw ticket sales slump to a new low for the year. The Warner Bros. drama scored an estimated $23.1M bow from 3,222 theaters (including 257 higher-priced IMAX screens) for a sturdy $7,180 average playing to a mature adult crowd. The PG-13 film starring Matt Damon, Gwenyth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, and Marion Cotillard benefited from an intriguing end-of-world disaster plot, a well-respected cast led by six Oscar winners and nominees, strong reviews, weak competition, and a solid marketing push. Academy Award winner Steven Soderbergh directed.

It was the fifth biggest opening ever in the first half of September which is typically among the slowest periods of the entire year at the box office. Contagion also infected six other markets this weekend with a modest roll out. The international gross was an estimated $2.1M from 544 screens including $705,000 from Italy, $531,000 in Singapore, and $392,000 from Hong Kong where the film's story begins. Unlike the disease, the movie will take some time to spread to the rest of the world with most major markets opening in October.

After becoming the only film of 2011 to remain number one for three weekends, The Help dropped to the runner-up spot with an estimated $8.7M but still held up well slipping only 41% from the holiday frame. The Disney release has now taken in a remarkable $137.1M on its way to $160M+. It was a notable weekend for Participant Media which co-financed both films in the top two spots.

Great reviews and buzz-building sneak previews failed to get young men out to the multiplexes for the Mixed Martial Arts film Warrior which debuted in third with an estimated $5.6M. Lacking major starpower, the Lionsgate release about two brothers who face off in a championship match averaged a weak $3,000 from 1,869 theaters. Warrior's performance has underscored how increasingly difficult it has become to pull males away from football during the fall season with college and NFL games dominating the TV airwaves on Saturday and Sunday. Teens and young adults in general have become elusive except for when top movie brands roll out.

The rest of the top ten was filled with leftovers which fell into a tight range between $2.5M and $5M a piece. Focus witnessed a 51% decline for its espionage thriller The Debt which no doubt took a hit from Contagion and collected an estimated $4.9M. Falling 46% to an estimated $4M was the younger-skewing actioner Colombiana for Sony. Totals are $22M and $29.8M, respectively.

Vicious animals followed as Rise of the Planet of the Apes grossed an estimated $3.9M, down 51%, while Shark Night 3D tumbled 58% to an estimated $3.5M. Fox has banked a stellar $167.8M while Relativity Media has collected $14.8M.

Rounding out the top ten was The Weinstein Co. with a trio of end-of-summer releases still lingering on the charts. After a soft debut followed by instantly negative buzz, the fake moon thriller Apollo 18 collapsed in its second weekend falling 67% to an estimated $2.9M for a $15M total. The Paul Rudd comedy Our Idiot Brother declined by 49% to an estimated $2.8M while the 4D kidpic Spy Kids: All the Time in the World took in an estimated $2.5M, off 48%. Cumes stand at $21.4M and $34.2M, respectively.

Other new films opening outside of the top ten saw some highs and lows. The stand-up comedy concert pic Kevin Hart: Laugh At My Pain was rock solid with an estimated $2M from only 97 locations for a potent $20,619 average for CodeBlack Entertainment.

Not delivering any laughs was the Nick Swardson comedy Bucky Larson: Born To Be A Star which had an aggressive 1,500-theater launch from Sony but came up with only $1.5M, according to estimates, for an embarrassing $967 average. The fact that it even had this wide of a release speaks to the clout that producer Adam Sandler has in Hollywood. Bubble Distribution did not release an estimate for its campy horror film Creature but sources put the three-day figure in the vicinity of $300,000 from an amazingly large 1,657 theaters in the U.S. and Canada for an abysmal $181 average. That equates to less than two tickets sold per showtime.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $61.9M which was even with last year when Resident Evil: Afterlife opened in the top spot with $26.7M; but down 13% from 2009 when I Can Do Bad All By Myself debuted at number one with $23.4M.

Compared to projections, Contagion opened ahead of my $19M forecast while Warrior, Bucky Larson, and Creature all debuted below my respective predictions of $10M, $4M, and $1M.

Get earlier box office updates and analysis by following BoxOfficeGuru.com on Twitter.

For a NEW review of Contagion visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Monday for final figures and again on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Drive, The Lion King 3D, I Don't Know How She Does It, and Straw Dogs all open.

Marketplace - Shop for DVDs, electronics, books, and posters at discounted prices:

# Title Sep 9 - 11 Sep 2 - 4 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Contagion $ 22,403,596 3,222 1 $ 6,953 $ 22,403,596 Warner Bros.
2 The Help 8,926,142 14,594,623 -38.8 2,935 5 3,041 137,327,800 Disney
3 Warrior 5,242,107 1,869 1 2,805 5,242,107 Lionsgate
4 The Debt 4,772,045 9,909,499 -51.8 1,876 2 2,544 21,869,001 Focus
5 Colombiana 3,947,582 7,463,200 -47.1 2,354 3 1,677 29,726,288 Sony
6 Rise of the Planet of the Apes 3,886,285 7,915,295 -50.9 2,887 6 1,346 167,847,116 Fox
7 Shark Night 3D 3,408,413 8,404,260 -59.4 2,848 2 1,197 14,672,592 Relativity
8 Apollo 18 2,851,349 8,704,271 -67.2 3,330 2 856 14,939,303 Weinstein Co.
9 Our Idiot Brother 2,650,538 5,450,884 -51.4 2,396 3 1,106 21,309,547 Weinstein Co.
10 Spy Kids: All the Time in the World 2,501,432 4,817,284 -48.1 2,544 4 983 34,223,018 Weinstein Co.
11 Crazy, Stupid, Love 2,261,572 3,306,408 -31.6 1,310 6 1,726 78,510,633 Warner Bros.
12 Don't Be Afraid of the Dark 2,166,846 5,195,268 -58.3 2,251 3 963 21,000,604 FilmDistrict
13 Kevin Hart: Laugh At My Pain 1,908,420 98 1 19,474 1,908,420 Code Black
14 The Smurfs 1,800,432 4,099,478 -56.1 1,977 7 911 136,009,277 Sony
15 Bucky Larson 1,415,023 1,500 1 943 1,415,023 Sony
16 Harry Potter / Deathy Hallows Part 2 1,001,583 2,472,601 -59.5 810 8 1,237 377,104,684 Warner Bros.
17 Captain America 845,653 1,928,367 -56.1 804 7 1,052 173,459,663 Paramount
18 Cowboys & Aliens 827,955 1,878,410 -55.9 920 6 900 98,041,821 Universal
19 Horrible Bosses 585,868 698,036 -16.1 503 10 1,165 115,795,823 Warner Bros.
20 Final Destination 5 555,303 1,498,089 -62.9 655 4 848 41,756,473 Warner Bros.
Top 5 $ 45,291,472 $ 49,527,948 -8.6
Top 10 60,589,489 76,554,062 -20.9
Top 20 73,958,144 94,981,477 -22.1
Top 20 vs. 2010 73,958,144 74,054,685 -0.1

Last Updated: September 11, 2011 at 3:20PM ET

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Thursday at 7:40pm ET.