NOT A WEEK after his popular A1 story on a White House butler ran in 2008, Wil Haygood swung by my desk. We often talk film, so it especially meant something when he shared the news:

“A top Sony executive,” he confided, “wants to make this.”

Haygood spoke with guarded optimism, having had a previous work of his optioned by Hollywood, only to see it go nowhere.

Over the weekend, the film inspired by his Post article sure went somewhere.

Oprah Winfrey (as Gloria Gaines) and Forest Whitaker (Cecil Gaines) have both generated Oscar buzz for their roles in "Lee Daniels' The Butler." (Anne Marie Fox/ THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY/via AP)

“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” significantly exceeded predictions, grossing $25-million in its domestic debut to win the weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday. Final numbers are due Monday.

The Weinstein Co. film stars Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines — a White House butler based on real-life Eugene Allen, who served eight presidents — and is set against the sweep of the civil-rights movement. “The Butler,” which drummed up financial backing buoyed by 41 producers, has already nearly covered its reported $30-million production budget.

“We expected to do well, but we didn’t expect to do this well,” Erik Lomis, president of Weinstein Co.’s distribution and home entertainment, told the Associated Press.

In a showdown of openers, “The Butler” easily outdistanced the superhero-comedy sequel “Kick-Ass 2,” which grossed $13.57-million to finish fourth.

In their sophomore weeks, the Jason Sudeikis/Jennifer Aniston comedy “We’re the Millers” was second with $17.8 million and Neill Blomkamp’s sci-fi actioner “Elysium” (starring Matt Damon) was third with $13.6 million.

So has does it feel not only to win the weekend, but also to exceed industry projections?

“I’m sure that everyone connected creatively with this important movie is ecstatic that American audiences have embraced it with overwhelming passion and vigorous support,” Haygood, who is an associate producer on the film, tells Comic Riffs.

[NEW CIVIL-RIGHTS NOVEL: Rep. John Lewis delivers a powerful graphic memoir]


* “The Butler” is the Weinstein Co.’s first No.-1 debut since Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” in 2009.

* “Kick-Ass 2” finished well behind the 2010 original “Kick Ass,” which opened atop the domestic box office with $19.83-million.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Chloë Grace Moretz (as Hit Girl) return in “Kick-Ass 2.” (Daniel Smith / UNIVERSAL PICTURES/.)

* The original “Kick-Ass” had a lifetime domestic gross of $48.1-million — the fourth-best ever for a superhero comedy, according to (The film was boosted by equaling that take overseas.)

* “Kick-Ass 2” couldn’t equal the average opening for a Chloë Grace Moretz film: $16.86-million.

* “The Butler” nearly topped the debut of “The Help,” which opened with $26.04-million.

* “The Butler” is poised to quickly pass the civil-rights film “Mississippi Burning,” which grossed $34.6-million during its entire domestic run (not adjusted for inflation).

* “The Butler” has already passed Whitaker’s Oscar-winning role at the box office; “The Last King of Scotland” made $17.6-million during its entire domestic run ($21.09-million when adjusted for inflation).

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