Hurricane cuts into ticket sales

“The Help” continued to surge at the box office this weekend, but Hurricane Irene still did serious damage to overall movie attendance.

Upon its debut in early August, the adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s popular novel opened behind “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” but the film has since worked its way into the No. 1 spot at the box office for two consecutive weekends. In the film’s third weekend of release, the movie about civil rights in 1960s Mississippi grossed an additional $14.3 million, according to an estimate from distributor Walt Disney Studios. The film’s total stands at an impressive $96.6 million.

Meanwhile, overall box office was in need of aid as bad weather plagued the East Coast and about a thousand movie theaters closed at some point during the weekend. Largely because of Irene, it was one of the slowest moviegoing weekends this year, with ticket sales down roughly 23% compared with the same weekend in 2010. Three new movies struggled to do business, with action flick “Colombiana” faring the best. The movie starring Zoe Saldana brought in a soft $10.3 million, while the horror film “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” could scare up only a lackluster $8.7 million. And there wasn’t much to laugh about for “Our Idiot Brother,” an R-rated comedy that collected a weak $6.6 million in ticket sales.

“Not only were there closures due to the weather, but people were just not leaving their homes,” said Rory Bruer, distribution president for Sony, which released “Colombiana.” “I’d say business was off upward of 20%.”


As of Saturday evening, AMC had closed all its theaters in New York, Virginia, Philadelphia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. Clearview Cinemas shut down all of its 57 locations between New York and Philadelphia on Saturday and Sunday, and Regal Cinemas also closed in many cities. Cinemark, the nation’s third-largest theater chain, did not have any of its cinema hours affected by the hurricane.

‘Colombiana’ crowd

Of the three new films that opened this weekend, “Colombiana” received the worst critical reviews, garnering a lowly 34% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Still, the movie, about an assassin attempting to avenge her parents’ murders, was given a better average grade by audiences than either of the weekend’s other two debuts -- an A-, according to market research firm CinemaScore. Although action films traditionally attract a younger male audience, older females were the ones most interested in seeing “Colombiana.” The crowd that showed up to see the movie was 57% female and 65% older than 25.

“I think that had something to do with Zoe Saldana playing a strong woman who really just kicks ... and takes names later, so to speak,” Bruer said of the female audience contingent.

The movie was financed by EuropaCorp. -- the French movie studio co-founded by Luc Besson, who wrote and produced the movie -- but is being distributed in the U.S. and Latin America by Sony.

“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” also played well with females, but younger ones as well as African Americans and Latinos. That’s part of what ultimately hurt the film’s overall weekend gross, said Bob Berney, president of theatrical distribution for FilmDistrict, which released the movie in the U.S.

“Our movie definitely relied on large urban markets, and that was tough because many of the theaters in those areas closed after Friday,” said Berney, whose company acquired the film -- made years ago for $25 million by the then-Walt Disney Co.-owned Miramax Films label -- when the specialty film division was closed in 2009.

‘Dark’ and ‘Idiot’

But even after the weather clears, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” might have trouble luring in moviegoers. The film, produced and written by Guillermo del Toro about a young girl who learns terrifying creatures are living in her house, was given a dismal average grade of C- by those who saw it -- which even Berney admitted was “not good.”

That was only slightly worse than the C+ grade “Our Idiot Brother” received from audiences. The film appealed mostly to an older crowd, as 70% of the audience was older than 25.

“That older audience is less likely to venture out in a storm, whereas when you’re younger, that 18-to-24 crowd is feeling the invincibility of ‘Let’s go find out what’s happening.’ We got hurt by that,” said Erik Lomis, president of theatrical distribution and home entertainment for the Weinstein Co. -- which distributed the film -- attempting to explain the film’s poor performance.

The movie, in which Paul Rudd plays a slacker whose sisters try to help him right himself, was financed by the production company Big Beach Entertainment for $5 million. The movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and Janua- ry, where it was later acquired by the Weinstein Co. and supermarket mogul Ron Burkle for about $6 million.





Estimated sales in the U.S. and Canada:

-- Movie (Studio) 3-day gross(millions) Percentage change from last weekend Total (millions) Days in release

1 The Help(Disney/Dreamworks/Participant) $14.3 -28% $96.6 19

2 Colombiana (Sony/EuropaCorp) $10.3 NA $10.3 3

3 Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (Mirimax/FilmDistrict) $8.7 NA $8.7 3

4 Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Fox/Dune/Ingenious) $8.7 -46% $148.5 24

5 Our Idiot Brother (Weinstein Co./YUK Films/Big Beach) $6.6 NA $6.6 3

6 Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D (Weinstein Co.) $5.7 -51% $21.7 3

7 The Smurfs (Sony) $4.8 -38% $126 31

8 Conan the Barbarian (Lionsgate/Nu Image) $3 -69% $16.6 10

9 Fright Night (Disney/Dreamworks) $3 -63% $14.2 10

10 Crazy, Stupid, Love (Warner Bros.) $2.9 -39% $69.5 31

Industry totals

3-day gross (in millions) Change from 2010 Year-to-date gross(in billions) Change from 2010 Change in attendance from 2010

$88 -23% $7.3 -4% -5%

Sources: Times research and Box Office

Los Angeles Times