SATURDAY PM: This is shaping up as 2011′s lousiest box office weekend in North America with only $70M total grosses. Yes, even worse than Hurricane Irene’s. A lot of surprises in this weekend’s numbers and a fuller analysis is coming. But no surprise which new North American movie is No. 1:

1. With $8M Friday and +20% for $9.7M Saturday, it’s a $24M weekend for Warner Bros’ Contagion playing in 42% more theaters — 3,222 — than its nearest newcomer. This Participant Media-backed disease movie looked like yet another yikes-you’re-all-going-to-die formula pic. But I’m surprised it didn’t generate more appeal what with Oscar-winning Steven Soderbergh directing 6 Academy Award winners or nominees: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, and Laurence Fishburne. (Readers are urging me to include Oscar-honored John Hawke and Elliott Gould as well…) That added oomph to credited screenplay writer Scott Burns’ material. “Yes, it was important to be provocative and to scare people,” a Warner Bros exec tells me about the $60M-budget pic. “But both the print and trailer and TV campaign present a more well-rounded view of the mystery. We did sell the visceral experience — a smart and thrilling look at a  killer virus, the science behind it, and the aftermath.” Warner Bros took the film to Venice to solid reviews and conducted an aggressive consumer campaign. Besides, adult movies are working at the box office.

2. Entering its 5th weekend in release, DreamWorks/Disney’s hit dramedy The Help which is also backed by Participant Media made $2.7M Friday and $4M Saturday going to $9.4M from 2,935 locations for the weekend. It’s estimated new cume of $137.8M by Monday.

3. This seemingly anticipated mixed martial arts drama Warrior starring Tom Hardy (Bane in the next Batman) and Joel Edgerton was only released for 1,869 runs. It opened with $1.8M Friday and $2.1M Saturday for what was just a dismal $4.8M weekend. Another very disappointing opening for Lionsgate which was very high on this actioner. Did last weekend’s sneaks let some wannasee steam escape? Will this hurt Hardy whom Hollywood execs consider a hot soon-to-be-star?

4. Focus Features’ adult holdover The Debt earned $1.4M Friday (-45% from a week ago) from 1,874 theaters and a projected $4.5M weekend for an estimated $21.6M cume by Monday.

5. Sony Pictures’ holdover Colombiana made $1.1M Friday and $1.9M Saturday from 2,354 runs for a $4M weekend and $29.8M cume.

But I have it on good authority that Sony execs were hiding out at the Toronto Film Festival (where better-than-expected Moneyball officially premiered Friday night) rather than get tagged by its Columbia Pictures’ R-rated Bucky Larson: Born To Be A Star which had one of the most annoying TV ad campaigns I’ve ever been assaulted by. Mercifully, its box office take was miniscule: $540K Friday and $570K Saturday for only a $1.2M weekend. That wasn’t even enough to make it into the Top 10 much less Sony’s hoped-for $4M. Fortunately the budget is purportedly just $10M. Usually Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison production banner gives Sony box office gold: stupid pics popular with audiences. But this was fool’s gold.

Before I give you the rest of the Top 10, you should know that Kevin Hart’s Laugh At My Pain was No. 10 Friday despite Hartbeat Productions and Codeblack Entertainment releasing it into only 99 theaters. It opened to $758K Friday and an estimated weekend of $2M. But it may ultimately be beaten by The Weinstein Co’s Spy Kids 4D. (I’ll know Sunday AM.) Hart’s fans turned out for this profanity-filled film version of his recent stand-up tour. It offers less than an hour of Hart onstage but also includes such bonus footage as Hart touring his old neighborhood in Philadelphia and faking a bank heist. Directed by Leslie Small, this 1-hour, 28-minute pic and its entry into the Top 10 now establishes Hart as a bonafide star beyond just his YouTube videos which have drawn tens of millions of views. Look for the major studios to take notice.

6. Rise Of the Planet Of The Apes (Fox) Week 6 [2,887 Theaters]
Friday $1.1M, Saturday $1.8M, Weekend $4M, Estimated Cume $168M
7. Shark Night 3D (Relativity) Week 2 [2,848 Theaters]
Friday $1M, Saturday $1.6M, Weekend $3.6M, Estimated Cume $14.9M
8. Apollo 18 (Dimension/The Weinstein Co) Week 2 [3,330 Theaters]
Friday $875K, Saturday $1.4M, Weekend $3M, Estimated Cume $15.1M
9. Our Idiot Brother (The Weinstein Co) Week 3 [2,396 Theaters]
Friday $835K, Saturday $1.1M, Weekend $3M, Estimated Cume $21.7M
10. Laugh At My Pain (Hartbeat Prods/Codeblack Ent) NEW [99 Theaters]
Friday $758K, Estimated Weekend $2M

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