This weekend at the box office, a superhero comedy, a Steve Jobs biopic, and a Harrison Ford thriller all got served by a butler. Lee Daniels’ The Butler, to be exact. The Weinstein Company’s awards-bait drama, which stars Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, topped the chart with an excellent $25 million from 2,933 theaters in its first frame. Audiences issued the well-reviewed picture an enthusiastic “A” CinemaScore grade, which sets it up for a lucrative box office run as summer draws to a close.
The Butler opened in the same range as The Help, which found $26 million in its first weekend in August 2011. Like that film, The Butler tells a racially charged story that is playing particularly well with older women. According to Weinstein, crowds were 60 percent female and 76 percent above the age of 35. Winfrey’s presence no doubt helped lure in many of those ticket-buyers, as did The Butler’s “inspired by a true story” cachet.
Time will tell whether the film can match The Help’s $169.7 million total, but given The Butler’s low $30 million cost, it doesn’t need to hold particularly well to become a major success. Of course, with its positive reception and its reputation as the first Oscar contender of 2013, The Butler should have no trouble performing at least as well as 42, which ran away with $95 million after a $27.5 million opening earlier this year. Weinstein may have a true cash cow on its hands.
We’re the Millers maintained its spot in second place. The pot-smuggling comedy, which stars Jason Sudiekis and Jennifer Aniston, fell only 33 percent in its second weekend to $17.8 million and has now lit up $69.5 million worth of tickets against a trim $37 million budget. Millers is now a lock to surpass $100 million at the domestic box office, which would make it Sudeikis’ second film to reach the milestone (alongside his previous Aniston team-up, Horrible Bosses), and Aniston’s sixth.
Last weekend’s champ, Elysium, took a major hit in its sophomore frame. The $115 million sci-fi film dropped 54 percent – the largest fall in the top 10 – to $13.6 million, which gives the tepidly received spectacle a $55.9 million total. Currently, Elysium seems headed for an $85 million to $90 million finish – well below director Neill Blomkamp’s $115.6 million finish for District 9.
Down in fourth place, Universal’s Kick-Ass 2 stumbled in its opening weekend with a meager $13.5 million. That’s a big step below the original Kick-Ass, which debuted to $19.8 million en route to $48.1 million total in 2010. While that was hardly an eye-popping total, Universal pushed ahead with a sequel based on Kick-Ass’ popularity in geek circles and its strong home video sales. Unfortunately, few people were very interested in the sequel (including star Jim Carrey, who would not do any publicity for the R-rated film after deciding he would not promote violence).
Kick-Ass 2, which fortunately cost only $28 million, extends the streak of under-performing sequels that has plagued Hollywood over the past month. Red 2, The Smurfs 2, The Wolverine, and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters have all failed to match their predecessors’ grosses. Audiences were 63 percent male and 58 percent below the age of 25, and they awarded the film a “B+” CinemaScore.
Planes descended 41 percent in its second weekend to $13.1 million, which brings the $50 million animation’s total to $45.1 million. Obviously, that’s not a Monsters University- or Despicable Me 2-sized number, but given Planes’ relatively low cost (and gigantic merchandise appeal), it’s flying high enough to keep Disney happy.
1. Lee Daniels’ The Butler – $25 million
2. We’re the Millers – $17.8 million
3. Elysium – $13.6 million
4. Kick-Ass 2 – $13.5 million
5. Planes – $13.1 million
Two newcomers finished outside the Top 5. Jobs, Open Road Films’ Steve Jobs biopic starring Ashton Kutcher, didn’t sync with moviegoers and floundered with $6.7 million. Fortunately, the picture cost only $12 million to produce – or about the amount that Apple has earned since you started reading this sentence. Meanwhile, Paranoia, a $40 million thriller starring Liam Hemsworth and Harrison Ford, fared even worse. The Relativity-acquired film grossed a truly terrible $3.5 million from 2,459 theaters, yielding a $1,423 theater average. The misfires were issued “B–” and “C+” CinemaScore grades, respectively.
In limited release, Blue Jasmine continued to impress. The Woody Allen-directed film starring Cate Blanchett increased its theater count from 119 to 229 locations but maintained a robust $10,303 average, which gave it $2.4 million for the weekend. After four weeks, Blue Jasmine has earned a remarkable $9.5 million.
Next weekend, The Mortal Instruments, You’re Next, and The World’s End all hit theaters. Check back to EW to find out how each film fares.