Box Office Guru Wrapup: What Won the Weekend? The Butler Did It!

We're the Millers and Elysium round out the top three.

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The annual late-summer funk hit the North American box office with only one of the frame's four new wide releases connecting with audiences. The potential Oscar contender Lee Daniels' The Butler surprised many with its number one opening grossing an estimated $25M. The PG-13 film averaged a strong $8,527 from 2,933 theaters and was the only wide release this weekend to gross more than $20M or generate an average above $6,000.

Starring Forest Whitaker, Butler took advantage of stellar reviews and solid awards buzz and also tapped into co-star Oprah Winfrey's massive fan base and promotional power. And the road ahead looks bright as new releases over the next couple of weeks do not look to be too distracting for this film's upscale adult audience plus the glowing A grade from CinemaScore indicates strong word-of-mouth will spread.

Butler's results were incredibly close to those seen two years ago by The Help, another mid-August period film about African-Americans serving the elite. That film opened to $26M at the same time of year, earned strong reviews and Oscar talk, and had a great CinemaScore (an even better A+). Help went on to finish with $169.7M, four Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, and a win for Best Supporting Actress. There is talk of Winfrey winning in that same category this time while Whitaker could be in the race for Best Actor.

Holding steady in second place and displaying terrific staying power was the pot smuggling comedy We're the Millers which dipped only 33% in its second weekend to an estimated $17.8M. Warner Bros. has collected an impressive $69.5M in ten days and could be headed for a $110-120M domestic final. Critics hated Millers, but paying audiences have found it to be a very entertaining option during the dog days of summer.

Matt Damon's sci-fi outing Elysium fell by 54% in its sophomore round - understandable for a sci-fi film - to an estimated $13.6M putting Sony at $55.9M after ten days. Look for the futuristic flick to end up with around $85M.

Opening close behind was the super hero sequel Kick-Ass 2 which disappointed with an estimated $13.6M as well. The Universal release averaged a mediocre $4,615 from 2,940 locations and grossed 32% less than the $19.8M that the first Kick-Ass took in when it bowed in April 2010. Though not a stellar number, it did build a cult following over the years so the follow-up was expected to draw at least the same size audience if not a little bigger. But competition was intense, the target audience has already had more than enough summer action movies, and reviews were negative.

The $28M production played, as expected, to a young male crowd. Studio research showed that 63% of the audience was male and 58% was under 25. A B+ CinemaScore showed that fans were moderately pleased with the product, but the huge 29% Friday-to-Saturday tumble indicates an extremely front-loaded run.

With nothing new opening for children this weekend, Disney's animated film Planes held up well declining by 41% to an estimated $13.1M in fifth place. The colorful toon has banked $45.1M so far and could end up with about $75M.

The kid-friendly fantasy adventure Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters also fared well in its sophomore frame dropping 42% to an estimated $8.4M. For a sequel it was an encouraging decline, but for a big-budget actioner the overall results are still weak. The Fox release has collected only $38.9M and seems headed for a $55-60M final.

Moviegoers didn't buy into Ashton Kutcher playing a genius as the biopic Jobs flopped in its opening weekend grossing an estimated $6.7M from 2,381 theaters for a poor $2,814 average. The Open Road release about Apple co-founder Steve Jobs earned negative reviews and never really energized paying movie audiences who gave it a lackluster B- grade from CinemaScore.

Dropping by half to eighth place was the Denzel Washington-Mark Wahlberg pic 2 Guns with an estimated $5.6M giving Universal $59.2M to date. Sony's kidpic The Smurfs 2 followed with an estimated $4.6M, off 51%, for a cume of $56.9M. The Wolverine rounded out the top ten with an estimated $4.4M, down 45%, putting Fox at $120.5M.

Utterly ignored by moviegoers was the new corporate thriller Paranoia which debuted outside of the top ten to an estimated $3.5M from 2,459 locations for a dismal $1,423 average for Relativity.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $112.8M which was down 8% from last year when The Expendables 2 debuted at number one with $28.6M; but up 16% from 2011 when The Help climbed into the top spot with $20M in its second weekend.

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