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Posted at 12:15 PM ET, 08/22/2011

How did ‘The Help’ beat the box office competition?


Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer in “The Help,” getting a peek at box office success. (Dale Robinette - AP)

The Help,” the adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel about race relations in Mississippi circa the early 1960s, did something relatively rare this weekend: It became the No. 1 movie at the box office in its second week of wide release.

The only other time that’s happened this year was during the first weekend in January, when the Coen brothers’ “True Grit” rose to the top in its third week in theaters. So it’s not unprecedented but, in a movie climate where the first weekend often sets the tone for a film’s revenue potential, it’s also an eyebrow raiser, especially for a picture populated almost entirely by female characters.

So how did “The Help” do it?

Well, for starters, “The Help” had a little help. None of Hollywood’s big new releases resonated with the public. “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World” did the best of the lot with $12 million. But the ’80s movie remakes “Conan the Barbarian” and “Fright Night” tanked, with “Conan” landing in fourth place with $10 million and the Colin Farrell vampire shocker ending the weekend in sixth place with a mere $7.9 million. (To put that into perspective, that’s a worse opening performance than “Vampires Suck.”)

And despite Anne Hathaway’s rapping skills, no one was interested in her rom-com “One Day,” which ended the weekend in ninth place. Those dismal performances and the fact that “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” had already spent two weeks on top created an opening on which “The Help” was able to capi­tal­ize.

But I also think there’s another factor at play here. As noted in last week’s box office report, the audience for “The Help” consisted, not surprisingly, mostly of women and people 35 and older. There are a lot of ticket-buyers that fall in that demographic that undoubtedly were interested in seeing the movie, but — and this is the key — aren’t necessarily the type of people who feel compelled to rush out and see a film the first weekend it opens.

So that second-place finish last weekend may have underplayed “The Help’s” appeal, as well as its ability to continue doing decent business in the weeks ahead. (Of course, all the dialogue the movie has generated about race and the publicity generated by last week’s dropping of that lawsuit against Stockett might not have hurt, either.)

In Hollywood, green lighters assume that a splashy remake is guaranteed money in the bank and that young boys are the key to a movie’s success. But what happened at this weekend’s box office proves that conventional wisdom totally wrong. Maybe it’s just a flukey situation brought about by a period of late-summer, less-than-stellar new releases. Or maybe it’s a sign that studios would be wise to reconsider all those ’80s remakes and find fresh stories that resonate with men as well as those “older women ” who like to go to the movies.

Can “The Help” hold on to the No. 1 spot again next weekend? After you peruse the list of top five movies at the box office, make your prediction in the poll below.

1. “The Help” — $20.4 million

2. “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” — $16.3 million

3. “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World” — $12 million

4. “Conan the Barbarian” — $10 million

5. “The Smurfs” — $8 million

By  |  12:15 PM ET, 08/22/2011

Categories:  Box Office, Movies

 
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