SATURDAY PM/SUNDAY AM, 3RD UPDATE: In terms of box office grosses but not necessarily box office quality, Summer 2011 roared in with overperforming hits like Fast Five and Thor and Bridesmaids, then gained steam with Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon and Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2. But now it’s leaving with a whimper, not a bang. This was one of those weekends when studio executives didn’t even bother coming up with excuses about why their movies were stillborn. Instead they just held their heads and moaned. Anecdotal reports reaching me from all over showed that moviegoing redefined the terms “soft” and “flat”. As one studio exec told me, “It looks like a ghosttown in theaters.” And yet no less than four wide-release studio films opened Friday. There was some initial confusion over Top 5 order, but the movies sorted themselves out. DreamWorks’ holdover The Help (which needs none) started Friday as the No. 1 movie and ended that way Sunday to distributor Disney’s delight.

But there was widespread disappointing over the failures of Dimension/Weinstein Co’s Spy Kids 4D, Nu Image/Millenium/Lionsgate’s Conan The Barbarian, and DreamWorks/Disney’s Fright Night which wound up all bunched together between a dismal $8M and $11.5M behind another holdover, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes. Not surprisingly, Conan and Fright Night received only ‘B-’ CinemaScores while Spy Kids managed a ‘B+’. Focus Features tried but couldn’t get its romance One Day to do much but eke out an opening especially with that ‘B-’ CinemaScore. So now two more stars find themselves in trouble at the box office: Anne Hathaway and Colin Farrell. That’s after Ryan Reynolds and Tom Hanks crashed and burned as well. Who’s next?

1. The Help (DreamWorks/Disney) Week 2 1/2 [2,690 Runs]
Friday $5.8M, Saturday $8M, Weekend $20.5M (-21%), Cume $71.8M

Again, the continuing controversy over the black-white issues in The Help has people debating and, most importantly, buying tickets. Nothing like Internet chatter and watercooler talk to keep a small film like this #1. And the Oscar buzz is good for business, too. At least this overperforming pic lessens the sting of Fright Night tanking for DreamWorks. (Well, you can;t win them all…)

2. Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (Fox) Week 3 [3,471 Runs]
Friday $4.6M, Saturday $6.7M, Weekend $16.3, Cume $133.7M

Look for lots of technical awards nominations for Apes as well as a big Fox push behind popular Andy Serkis for Supporting Actor.

3. Spy Kids 4D - 3D (Dimension/Weinstein) NEW [3,295 Runs]
Friday $4M, Saturday $4.4M, Weekend $12M

I don’t know how The Weinstein Co is going to stay on track with its reorganized finances if Dimension films keep bombing. The whole underpinning of the Weinstein Brothers’ success at Miramax was that Dimension threw off wheelbarrows of box office cash. No more. Here’s yet another unnecessary sequel not helped by its 4D gimmickry, Aroma-Scope schtick, or Robert Rodriguez. (See Robert Rodriguez On His ‘Spy Kids’ Stinker.) The Weinstein Co saw the handwriting on the wall and didn’t bother to brief the media on the film ahead of time. With a ’B+’ Cinemascore and exit polls showing that kids rated the film much higher than parents did (72 excellent and 90 in the top 2 boxes) the film should have done better especially with 3D’s higher ticket prices. But Spy Kids: All The Time In The World had 60/40 with 2D in terms of screens but only 54/46 in terms of business. (To give you some context, The Smurfs was 77/23 with 2D which is more in line with the family film trend). Dimension can keep making this sequel swill but until it comes up with fresh ideas for fresh films, then TWC could tank again.

4. Conan The Barbarian – 3D (Nu Image/Millenium/Lionsgate) NEW [3,015 Runs]
Friday $3.6M, Saturday $3.8M, Weekend $10.5M

Lionsgate execs today are despondent as they try to figure out what went wrong. “It’s one of those weekends that gives me a stomach ache,” one Lionsgate exec told me Friday night. “It’s a headscratcher but it won’t kill us.” But they also know that with Carl Icahn back breathing down Lionsgate’s mane by buying up company shares, and the annual stockholders meeting scheduled for September 13th, this is a really lousy time for this secondary studio to have such a box office bomb. Over the last two weeks Icahn has acquired 756,840 shares in Lionsgate, growing his ownership to 33.2% from 32.6%, presumably in his so-far-unsuccessful effort to gift his son Brent with a Hollywood studio. Last year, Icahn tried but failed to seize control and, after a brief respite, he’s trying yet again all the while carping about Lionsgate’s profligate management and moviemaking strategy. Here’s more ammunition for him. First off, being in business with Avi Lerner’s Nu Image/Millenium film company is a dicey proposition at best. Especially when this Conan The Barbarian reboot cost nearly $90M, which makes this weekend’s opening disastrous even if Lionsgate’s exposure was mitigated by the co-production and co-release. Not even spreading the buzz that previous Conan The Barbarian Arnold Schwarzenegger was treated to a private screening and “really liked it” helped box office which didn’t come near even Lionsgate’s low-ball expectation of $15M from a wide release.

This R-rated reboot of the 1930s Robert E. Howard original source material, portraying the character as the Cimmerian warrior, was supposed to have a devoted fanbase. And tracking showed strong interest from African-American and Hispanic male moveiegoers. There seemed to be a ton of interest when Deadline’s Mike Fleming broke first news of the remake. That is, until Conan was cast. Even Lionsgate admits that the film absolutely hinged on finding the right Conan, and fanboys reacted horribly to then virtual unknown Jason Momoa even though he has since become a break-out star from his role on HBO’s Game of Thrones. Problem: “There’s so much history with this character and this brand they needed someone who could both really ‘own’ Conan (making him feel relatable for this generation), but also who offered continuity with what fans already know and love. Because there’s no competing with Arnold, Jason’s performance bypasses all of the comparisons, playing the character in a very different way than Arnold did and instead taking inspiration from the written source,” a Lionsgate exec emailed me. I happen to think the studios should have bet on a wrestling The Rock-style star with a ready-made fanbase.

The concensus among Avi Lerner and Joe Drake, who had successfully released The Expendables together, is that Conan The Barbarian didn’t have the “brand equity” they hoped it would. The pair had convinced themselves that the brand was ripe for a reboot and that the fans were ready for it, so they rescued the film from the major development purgatory it had been caught in for so long. The backstory is that Paradox Entertainment bought the rights in 2002 when the brand was hitting rock-bottom, with a bevy of licensed products in the marketplace but also  quality and consistency issues at every turn. The duo’s first move was to take everything off the market. Then they connected with very select partners to introduce the rehabilitated Conan via just 3 laser-focused licensed products that appealed to a core demo of young adult males (comics, toys, and a computer game). Marketing generated considerable awareness, with a significant Comic-Con presence (which included: talent appearances, bar invasion promotions, interactive fan experiences at the booth). They targeted Hispanic outreach with Momoa traveling to Miami. They also released an online redband clip to reassure young males fearing this reboot would be sanitized. But it was all for naught.

5. Fright Night - 3D (DreamWorks/Disney) NEW [3,114 Runs]
Friday $3M, Saturday $2.9M, Weekend $8.3M

Not even a shortish 101-minute running time, or Dr. Who‘s David Tennant, or jokes about the Twilight franchise, or borrowing cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe from Twilight Saga: New Moon could save this film. Least of all Colin Farrell, who is decidedly not a star despite Hollywood giving him gazillion chances to become one. Everyone needs to stop trying. He’s a fine actor but audiences don’t want to watch him in massive numbers. Deal with it, people. That said, Fright Night certainly seemed like a good idea to do a contemporary revamp of the 1985 comedy-horror classic written and directed by Tom Holland. But in those days, spoofing vampires was still a relatively rare occurrence. Now the whole vampire thing is lame (except for Twi-hards). Director Craig Gillespie (Lars And The Real Girl) is being criticized for being too faithful to the original film and for not making any interesting use of 3D. Perhaps audiences sensed a rip-off and that’s why they stayed away. The marketing did no harm. And a 74% positive on Rotten Tomatoes didn’t hurt either. But all that Comic-Con hype and hoopla did nothing to bring in moviegoers (panel moderated by Chris Sarandon, star of the original Fright Night; a screening with introductions by talent; a Fright Night party themed as Peter Vincent’s lair with talent appearances; a bus wrapped in Fright Night art with a “text to win” message to drive guests to the event; live tweeting with Christopher Mintz-Plasse, a live online Chat With Colin, etc.) So the movie bombed, horribly underperforming the $14M Disney thought it would gross. The only good news is that it was produced for a very modest $30M. Produced by Mike De Luca and Alison Rosenzweig, the screenplay was written by Marti Noxon from Tom Holland’s story and film.

6. The Smurfs - 3D (Sony) Week 4 [3,427 Runs]
Friday $2.2M, Saturday $3.1M, Weekend $8M, Cume $117.7M

Those annoying little blue guys did $35.3 million overseas this weekend bringing the international total on The Smurfs to $211.4M and the worldwide cume to date to $329M after its 4th weekend of play. The Sony Pictures Animation/Columbia Pictures film hit $300 million worldwide on Friday. ”This film is shaping up to deliver a remarkable worldwide result for the team,” a Sony exec gushed. Again, this was Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman Michael Lynton’s decision to bring it into the studio after Paramount passed.

7. Final Destination 5 – 3D (New Line/Warner Bros) Week 2 [3,155 Runs]
Friday $2.4M, Saturday $3.1M, Weekend $7.7M (-57%), Cume $32.3M

8. 30 Minutes Or Less (Sony) Week 2 [2,888 Runs]
Friday $2M, Saturday $2.4M, Weekend $6.3M (-53%), Cume $25.7M

9. One Day (Focus Features) NEW [1,719 Runs]
Friday $1.8M, Saturday $1.8M, Weekend $5.1M

10. Crazy, Stupid, Love (Warner Bros) Week 4 [1,944 Runs]
Friday $1.5M, Saturday $1.9M, Weekend $4.9M, Cume $64.4M

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

Editor-in-Chief Nikki Finke - tip her here.

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