SATURDAY PM/SUNDAY AM 3RD UPDATE: Late shows made the difference after a sluggish Friday box office, especially for matinees. But attendance picked up dramatically on Saturday,  as much as +24%-to-+38%, allowing a clear winner for the 3-day weekend to emerge, Focus Features’ The American starring George Clooney with $12.9M. Sony’s holdover Takers was close behind Saturday. But Machete from Robert Rodriguez should finish the 3-day weekend with $11.3M, good enough for 2nd place. Here are Friday, Saturday, and estimated Labor Day holiday weekend grosses for North America. Analysis coming:

1. The American (Focus Features) NEW [2,823 Theaters] Opened Wed
Friday $3.8M, Saturday $4.9M, 3-Day Weekend $13.3M, Est 4-Day Holiday $16.1M, Est Cume $19.2M

This is the way a Clooney picture should be sold from now on. Even though early exits show that attendance was partly driven by the “George Clooney factor”, he just can’t muster wide domestic appeal even if he is still a big name on the international scene. Focus Features marketed Clooney’s The American to his core +35 adult audience as the more cerebral and sophisticated choice that was a counterprogramming alternative to the summer’s mindless crap. (Focus did the same with 2005′s The Constant Gardener.) Problem is, moviegoers didn’t like what they saw: the CinemaScore was a poor “D-”. Focus execs say Control helmer Anton Corbijn’s performance exceeded internal projections which undoubtedly it did. But a star of Clooney’s status should be able to muster a better 6-day opening than just $16.1M — and didn’t.

2. Machete (Fox) NEW [2,670 Theaters]
Friday $3.9M, Saturday $3.9M, 3-Day Weekend $11.3M, Est 4-Day Holiday $14.7M)

With an opening of only an $11.3M three-day weekend, it helps that 20th Century Fox acquired this Robert Rodriguez pic for only $6M. ”We always believed the movie would be so strong in the Latino community. After all, it’s a Latino director with cachet, a great Hispanic cast, and part of our sell has been that Machete is the first Latino superhero,” a Fox exec explained to me before the pic opened with a “B” CinemaScore. Fox did everything it could to attract a Latino audience: big ad buys on Telemundo and Univision and Latino newspapers and radio and crossover stations. The studio also brought the cast to Miami for a press day to do 26 shows. At the premiere screening in Downtown LA, all the cast arrived at the Orpheum in low-riders. Sure, cineastes knew the pic had a big cool quotient as that famously fake trailer by Rodriguez from Grindhouse. It was considered the single best thing about that Weinstein Co double-feature flop. (Machete‘s YouTube video alone had 1.4 million views back then.) Fox beat back 5 other studios all very interested in domestic distribution rights to Rodriguez’ latest – again, made outside the studio system with indie financing help from Rick Schwartz’s Overnight Productions. Rodriquez raised $20 million from selling international rights to Sony and making some other global sales and another $5 million he borrowed. Rodriguez not only wrote and produced the pic but he also co-directed it with Ethan Maniquis. So Rodriguez asked for a big backend gross participation in the 10%-12% neighborhood. But even with an eclectic cast of Robert De Niro, Michelle Rodriguez, Jessica Alba, Lindsay Lohan, and of course Danny Trejo, why didn’t it do better at the box office? In the end, that Hard “R” may attract some moviegoers but also repels others and always depresses grosses.

3. Takers (Screen Gems/Sony) Week 2 [2,206 Theaters]
Friday $3.1M, Saturday $4.3M, 3-Day Weekend $11.2M (-45%), Est 4-Day Holiday $14.5M, Est Cume $40.5M

4. The Last Exorcism (Lionsgate) Week 2 [2,874 Theaters]
Friday $2.3M, Saturday $3M, 3-Day Weekend $7.8M (-62%), Est 4-Day Holiday $9.5M, Est Cume $34.3M

5. Going The Distance (Warner Bros) NEW [3,030 Theaters]
Friday $2.2M, Saturday $2.4M, 3-Day Weekend $6.8M, Est 4-Day Holiday $8.5M

Ugh, what is there to say? Drew Barrymore may still be appealing to some moviegoers (though not in this dumb rom-com), but Justin Long never was. As one of my commenters said, time for both to do television.

6. The Expendables (Lionsgate) Week 4 [3,398 Theaters]
Friday $1.6M, Saturday $2.4M, 3-Day Weekend $6.6M, Est 4-Day Holiday $8.2M, Est Cume $94M

7. The Other Guys (Sony) Week 5 [2,607 Theaters]
Friday $1.3M, Saturday $1.9M, 3-Day Weekend $5.4M, Est 4-Day Holiday $6.6M, Est Cume $108M

8. Eat Pray Love (Sony) Week 4 [2,663 Theaters]
Friday $1.3M, Saturday $1.8M, 3-Day Weekend $4.8M, Est 4-Day Holiday $6.5M, Est Cume $70.5M

9. Inception (Warner Bros) Week 8 [1,704 Theaters]
Friday $1.1M, 3-Day Weekend $4.5M, Est 4-Day Holiday $6M, Est Cume $278.4M

10. Nanny McPhee Returns (Working Title/Universal) Week 3 [2,708 Theaters]
Friday $875K, 3-Day Weekend $3.6M, Est 4-Day Holiday $5M, Est Cume $23.9M

For more estimates listed by title, see box office results here...

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