SATURDAY PM/SUNDAY AM, 2ND UPDATE: Far be it from Summer 2011 to wind down with a whimper. Instead, these waning weekends are crowded with North American releases. I’m suffering burnout especially with four major studio releases in one weekend. It’s not just me: Hollywood’s distribution departments were calling this the “crowded-nearing-the-end-of-summer-but-thank-goodness-for-Apes-and-Help-kinda-weekend”. So what can we glean overall from these box office grosses close to $150 million, +5% compared to last year’s?

That Twentieth Century Fox’s Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes stayed #1 for the second straight week because humans empathize with apes no matter if we believe in Darwin or Dr. Spock. That DreamWorks/Disney’s The Help was a close #2 despite a midweek debut because movies based on bestselling books nearly always attract loyal readers and this pic has Oscar buzz. That New Line/Warner Bros’ Final Destination 5 looks like a dying franchise even in 3D because the filmmakers stopped murdering people in interesting or original ways. That Sony’s 30 Minutes Or Less isn’t going to result in action comedies replacing raunchy comedies even if this script started its life as one of Hollywood’s Black List of celebrated unproduced screenplays. (Instead Aziz Ansari needs to keep his day job.) That all non-Gleeks now can relax in the knowledge that Fox will never make another Glee 3D unless a few execs at 20th and 20th TV undergo lobotomies. The concert film opened in only 6th place Friday with $2.7M, then Saturday plunged -39% for just $1.6M which took the pic out of the Top 10 completely. Its $5.5M weekend from 2,040 theaters would be humiliating and downright disastrous if it hadn’t been made for such a low budget – around $9.5M to $9.7M, according to Ryan Murphy who emailed me: “That’s compared to the Bieber film which was around $14 million I believe. So the risk [was] very very low. No matter what it will be a money maker for Fox. I am proud of it.” Murphy, who produced but did not direct, was as befuddled as Fox TV and film execs why the pic didn’t do better, especially because it was given an ‘A+’ CinemaScore from audiences under age 25. “The CinemaScores were excellent. They don’t sync up with the results,” one Fox TV exec emailed me. The film studio expected the film would at least reach double-digits and crack the Top 5 for the weekend. Nope. (More Glee 3D analysis below)

Here’s the Top 10:

1. Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (Fox) Week 2 [3,691 Theaters]
Friday $8.1M, Saturday $10.8M, Weekend $27M (-49%), Cume $104.4M

Twentieth Century Fox was hoping for a drop of 50% or less on Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes and got it. “You do remember that ‘A-’ CinemaScore don’t you?” boasted one studio exec to me. As if this movie wasn’t a prequel to a played-out franchise saved by CGI primates.

2. The Help (DreamWorks/Disney) NEW (Wed opening) [2,534 Theaters]
Friday $7.6M, Saturday $10.1M, Weekend $25.7M, Cume $35.5M

So here’s a big fat TOLDJA! to DreamWorks and Disney execs who whined to me since Wednesday that my five-day projections of $30+M were too aggressive. ”For starters ‘A+’ CinemaScores don’t come along very often and this one will matter as The Help works to help itself into a meaningful crossover film,” as one rival studio exec told me. Interestingly, this dramedy is playing like a Tyler Perry film in the Southeast with significant strength in the Midwest as well. (Not so much in the Rockies and the West. And anemic in Canada.) Now The Blind Side is a comp. Controversy within the African-American community over the racial subject matter didn’t hurt moviegoing and may have increased it because of the media coverage. The DreamWorks pic based on the bestselling book overperformed for its first 5 days with distributor Disney predicting only $25M. The question was exactly how frontloaded The Help would turn out to be and how many more loyal readers flock to theaters after Day One. Then again the book sold 3 million copies and remained on the NYT best-seller list for 103 weeks. According to comps, these so-called appointment films for women based on popular books usually perform in the $20sM. For instance Eat Pray Love did $23M for Friday-Saturday-Sunday the same August weekend last year and its first 5 days was $29M. Julie and Julia also hit $20M.

This is the 2nd film that Disney is releasing from DreamWorks 2.0 and was partly financed by Participant Media which specializes in socially relevant films and documentaries. Hollywood has been likening The Help to Driving Miss Daisy which, although platformed at the start of its release, went on to earn a staggering $100M at the domestic box office and win the Best Picture Oscar with a similar mix of racial comedy and period drama and stellar casting. The Help‘s ensemble cast already is the subject of DreamWorks-promoted early awards chatter for the performances by Jessica Chastain, Viola Davis, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek, Octavia Spencer, Cicely Tyson, and latest “It” girl Emma Stone.

I understand the book was shopped throughout Hollywood but with the proviso that writer Kathryn Stockett’s best friend Tate Taylor had penned the screenplay and also would direct even though DreamWorks says the Mississippi native had zero credits. Yet CEO Stacey Snider and co-president of production Holly Bario decided to greenlight anyway. Producers are Chris Columbus and Mike Barnathan from 1492 Pictures.

With a lean budget of $25M, rival studios noted that The Help more than made up for that with a heavy and expensive rotation of TV ads. To jumpstart buzz, DreamWorks/Disney arranged over 300 advance screenings of The Help to create word of mouth. then the cast embarked on a personal appearance tour to San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Dallas, Atlanta, Miami, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Jackson MS, Tampa, and Las Vegas. Marketing tactics included a HSN partnership, Starbucks digital network campaign with soundtrack tie-in, and extensive group sales initiatives targeting faith and family groups, women’s groups, and book clubs.

3. Final Destination 5 – 3D (New Line/Warner Bros) NEW [3,155 Theaters]
Friday $7.3M, Saturday $6.3M, Weekend $18.4M

Readers know I abhor horror movies, but I actually like the Final Destination franchise because it’s an endless feature film series of Law & Order-like intricate and inventive murders — just without the Law. Granted I’d lost count but this is already the 5th installment. Unfortunately it underperformed even with the higher 3D ticket prices. Now it’s probably this series’ turn to go bye-bye.

5. The Smurfs (Sony) Week 3 [3,427 Theaters]
Friday $3.8M, Saturday $5.3M, Weekend $13.5M, Cume $101.5M

Sony was so smug when its Smurfs beat DreamWorks/Universal/Imagine/Relativity’s Cowboys & Aliens recently. Now the studio is feeling the sting of getting Smurf-ed after the little blue guys beat its own new release, 30 Minutes Or Less. ”Think Sony ever thought that would be possible when they dated their summer?” one rival studio exec chuckled in an email to me.

5. 30 Minutes Or Less (Sony) NEW [2,888 Theaters]
Friday $4.8M, Saturday $4.5M, Weekend $13M

This latest Summer 2011 R-rated “comedy” focuses on a small-town pizza delivery guy wired with explosives that’s a rip-off of a real-life Erie, PA incident. Ugh. Sony acquired the worldwide rights to distribute 30 Minutes Or Less from Media Rights Capital, which produced and financed the film. But it underperformed projections for a near $20M weekend after good word of mouth never spread and its core fanbase of young men stayed away. Surprising since both Jesse Eisenberg and director Ruben Fleischer last collaborated on Zombieland. ”The chance to reunite with the two of them on this new film was important to us,” a Soney exec told me. ”Fleischer is an outstanding director who delivers fresh and irreverent action comedies. And obviously we worked most recently with Eisenberg last year on the hit film The Social Network.” On the other hand, this was Parks & Recreation star and standup standout Aziz Ansari’s first feature film starring role. Oops.

The studio ran 2-minute trailers mostly after midnight for late-night viewers in order to showcase some of the edgier content during this time period available at very cheap and efficient rates. Sony also targeted braincell-killing shows like Jersey Shore. Radio figured prominently in the marketing campaign with ’30 Minute Takeovers’ on top radio stations throughout the country offering listeners commercial free radio sponsored by the radio as well as comedic spots, promotional screenings, interviews with the stars, etc. TV was focused on Adult Swim, WWE RAW, and Starz. No matter: it didn’t work. 30 Minutes or Less started out its feature life on the prestigious Black List as a screenplay by Michael Diliberti based on story by Michael Diliberti & Matthew Sullivan. Then producers Ben Stiller and Stuart Cornfeld of Red Hour Films developed the material and brought in Fleischer to direct on the heels of his first feature film, the hit Zombieland. Production notes quote Fleischer as saying the script seemed to him like “John Landis meets the Coen Brothers”. I think that succinctly explains the problem.

6. Cowboys & Aliens (DreamWorks/Universal) Week 3 [3,310 Theaters]
Friday $2.2M, Estimated Weekend $7M, Estimated Cume $80.8M

7. Crazy, Stupid, Love (Warner Bros) Week 3 [2,635 Theaters]
Friday $2.1M, Estimated Weekend $7M, Estimated Cume $55.3M

8. Captain America (Marvel/Disney/Paramount) Week 4 [2,835 Theaters]
Friday $2M, Estimated Weekend $6.5M, Estimated Cume $156.2M

9. Harry Potter/Hallows Pt 2 (Warner Bros) Week 5 [2,414 Theaters]
Friday $1.4M, Saturday $2.7M, Weekend $6.7M, Cume $356.8M

10. The Change-Up (Universal) Week 2 [2,913 Theaters]
Friday $1.9M (-60%), Estimated Weekend $6M, Estimated Cume $25.5M

As for Glee The 3D Concert Movie, it shockingly didn’t end the weekend in the Top 10. Producer Ryan Murphy who did not direct was as befuddled as Fox TV and film execs why the pic didn’t do better, especially because it was given an ‘A+’ CinemaScore from audiences under age 25. “The CinemaScores were excellent. They don’t sync up with the results,” one Fox TV exec emailed me. Fox thought the film would reach double-digits, crack the Top 5 for the weekend, and perform like the other concert movies. But the studios wasn’t really sure what to make of the soft tracking despite fan favorite castmembers like Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Chris Colfer, Chord Overstreet, and The Warblers in the film.

Murphy said that, by design, the movie wasn’t just a big screen version of the TV show: instead it’s about 3 young people who say that Glee helped them live better lives and overcome struggles with their personal stories cut against 20 positive message songs. When moviegoers didn’t materialize Friday, the filmmakers still thought kids would come out Saturday and Sunday. But these concert films are frontloaded and it’s all downhill from opening day. Immediately  Fox Tv execs turned against Fox film execs. “I think it was a shitty campaign that did not effectively communicate what the movie was or that the people who had seen it reviewed it positively,” one suit told me. “I think the feature company took a very laid-back approach, feeling their only job was to alert the core fans and that’s not enough to fill seats.”

I say these concert films are very unpredictable: remember, the Jonas brothers concert movie didn’t do well (though not as bad as this) and they were really big at the time. But kids can watch the real Glee for free on Fox and faux Glee Project on Oxygen so why spend their milk money on a movie ticket. No one believes that 2-week-only run nonsense anymore. And maybe Glee is just over-exposed right now and not as cool as it was initially. Not even a Fox Television integration with the So You Think You Can Dance finale helped attendance.

So maybe Sue Sylvester’s email sent to the press as a publicity stunt was really prescient: “For two years, we’ve been mercilessly bombarded with the pubescent nonsense of carnival sideshow freaks calling themselves ‘The Glee Club’. And now, they’re trying to shove a 3-D concert movie down our throats. It’s time to make a stand against these pimply-faced, hormone-ridden twits by joining the ‘STOP BELIEVING’ campaign. Say ‘NO’ to their insignificant cinematic experiment. I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand looking at their little satanic faces in 2-D, much less 3D.

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

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

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