SUNDAY 8 AM, 6TH UPDATE WRITETHRU: With one exception, this weekend was a disaster zone for three of the four newcomers at the domestic box office. Tanking big-time were Universal’s Kick-Ass 2 based on the comic book, Five Star/Open Road Films’ Jobs biopic about the Apple co-founder played by Ashton Kutcher, and IM Global/Relativity’s Paranoia starring Liam Hemsworth and Harrison Ford. Total moviegoing this weekend was only around $160 million, or -6% from last year, despite the uber-crowded marketplace. Even the surprise #1 this weekend, The Weinstein Company’s Lee Daniels’ The Butler, opened with $25 million which was down from the $30+M Hollywood projected when the weekend started. ”Everything is coming in softer,” one studio exec warned me Friday night. Love her or hate her, co-star Oprah Winfrey and her big media blitz helped open the pic even if it did little to help her public image by providing more dirt for her detractors. Yet a survey by Fandango found that 72% of Butler ticket-buyers claimed Oprah’s involvement increased their interest in seeing the film which was her first movie role in 15 years. But The Butler still trailed the opening weekend grosses of two recent and similarly race- and civil rights-themed adult pics: 42 and The Help. No one, and certainly not The Weinstein Company, expected director Lee Daniels’ or screenwriter Danny Strong’s biopic (playing in 2,933 theaters) to double its $15M weekend projection much less land on top of the weekend box office. But on Thursday morning it already was the #1 ticket-seller on both Fandango and MovieTickets – a welcome event for such a modest $25M negative cost film. Its 73% Rotten Tomatoes positive reviews and ’A’ CinemaScore from audiences surely helped word of mouth as much as Oprah. (Note that in 1998. at the height of her syndicated power when she could sell anything to anyone, Oprah starred in and produced the film flop Beloved. Now she’s on her struggling cable network. But I’m assured she had no financial investment in the film nor contributed into the P&A nor bought up advance tickets in bulk like the rumors claimed.)

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Forest Whitaker, Terrence Howard, Alan Rickman, and Cuba Gooding Jr helped overcome the uneven script that – depending on your POV – is dumbed-down or condescending, historically important or filled with historical inaccuracies. But the stunt casting of Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan has caused considerable Red State outrage on social media. Like 42 and The Help, this pic was marketed first to African-Americans through outreach in those faith-based communities. Then the campaign widened to the art house crowd and curious general audiences. Rival studios initially speculated that The Butler‘s grosses would be frontloaded since it was so dependent on pre-sales. But its Saturday number went up +10% over Friday’s. The film’s genesis began with a Washington Post profile of the longtime White House black butler Eugene Allen that was optioned by Sony Pictures producer Laura Ziskin. When she died of cancer 3 weeks before shooting began, Cassian Elwes and Pam Williams met with Daniels and, together with CAA, scrambled to put together financing. In all 28 investors came together including Buddy Patrick, Sheila Johnson, Michael Findley, and Len Blavatnick. Harvey Weinstein and his TWC boarded late in the production and banked $4M to help finish the film. Then Harv “helped edit” – we all know what that means – with Daniels. Initially The Butler was a fall film to platform for awards consideration. “But when it tested through the roof, we decided then that we needed to go wide. And we saw a gap in the schedule for adult fare in the summer,” an insider tells me. “In our deal we had a $20M P&A cap, and we had to go to the investor group to get the cap raised to $30M in order to go wide.” I’m told 100% of the P&A money is TWC’s. Along the way, Harvey orchestrated free publicity as he battled Warner Bros over the pic’s title.

Pre-release tracking predicted that Universal’s superhero action-comedy Kick Ass 2 (playing in 2,940 theaters) would be the #1 film this weekend as it made steady gains in key areas with solid interest indicated from younger audiences and males in particular. Instead, it bombed with only $13.6M after looking to open #1, then #2, then #3 on Friday - trailing the Warner Bros/New Line holdover comedy We’re The Millers. Not even its ‘B+’ CinemaScore could help word of mouth after critics savaged it with only 29% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes because it fell short of the original. Fanboys decided to stay away. I predict debate will rage about whether this sequel based on Mark Millar/John S. Romita’s comic book was necessary. Even the 2010 original’s $19.8M opening was considered dismal, only to make up for it as a hot DVD sale and rental and digital download because of its R-rated irreverence and style. Wrongly, the studio believed “there was a committed fan base that could be activated as a core audience for a sequel,” as a Universal exec emailed me. So the studio handled worldwide distribution for the further adventures of Kick-Ass, Hit Girl and Red Mist (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloë Grace Moretz  and Christopher Mintz-Plasse respectively). Vigilante crusader Colonel Stars and Stripes is played by Jim Carrey who kicked up a fuss by proclaiming he wouldn’t promote the film because of its ultra-violence. A few weeks later, he got onboard – but not before generating a ton of bad publicity for the pic. (He didn’t make himself very popular in Hollywood with this stunt. Let’s see if his career continues to crater.) From a screenplay by director Jeff Wadlow, pic also reteamed producers Matthew Vaughn, Adam Bohling, Tarquin Pack and David Reid. It was independently financed for only $28M, then acquired by Universal before production began in September of 2012. Film opens day-and-date in 18 international territories including the United Kingdom, France, and Germany and grossed $6.3M at 1,500 dates.

Flopping in wide release (2,381 theaters) was Open Road Films’ Jobs, the much-publicized biopic about the Apple co-founder Steve Jobs starring Ashton Kutcher. It came in only #7 with a meager $6.7M despite a plethora of TV ad buys. Ashton just isn’t a movie star, period, and the ‘B-’ CinemaScore didn’t generate any helpful word of mouth for the pic directed by Joshua Michael Stern (Swing Vote) and scripted by first-time screenwriter Matt Whitely. Open Road acquired Jobs just before it premiered at Sundance in January from Five Star Feature Films which financed the $12M production. Rotten Tomatoes critics only gave it 24% positive reviews because of its superficial made-for-TV depiction of a complex creative and business icon. Still it’s surprising how many Apple devotees stayed away despite the marketing’s psychographic targeting to them. And digital stunts included the launch of the first-ever Instagram movie trailer and Kutcher ringing the bell at the NY Stock Exchange.

Another tech pic tanked. Dropping from #10 on Friday to #13 by Sunday was the IM Global/ Reliance produced thriller Paranoia (distributed by Relativity into 2,459 U.S. theaters with EOne releasing in Canada). Even starring Liam Hemsworth, Harrison Ford, and Gary Oldman who all are good in the film, it made only $3.5M or about half what was projected. Both audiences and critics hated on it with a ‘C’ CinemaScore and 4% Rotten Tomatoes positive reviews. ”I think Relativity’s marketing department screwed up,” one insider tells me. “They tried to focus on the youth audience and teen girls in particular, and it isn’t that kind of movie at all. Also, IM Global picked this date, and they never should have opened this kind of film in the summer.”IM Global and Demarest Films financed and produced Paranoia with a $35M production budget. IM Global is overseeing international distribution but Relativity acquired U.S. marketing and distribution rights at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. Directed by Robert Luketic and written by Jason Hall and Barry L. Levy, pic is based on the Joseph Finder novel and produced by Alexandra Milchan, Scott Lambert, William D. Johnson, Deepak Nayar.

Here’s the unofficial Top Ten list based on weekend estimates:

1. Lee Daniels’ The Butler (Weinstein) NEW [Runs 2,933] PG13
Friday $8.3M, Saturday $9.3M, Weekend $25.0M

2. We’re The Millers (New Line/Warner Bros) Week 2 [Runs 3,325] R
Friday $5.8M, Saturday $7.1M, Weekend $17.1M (-35%), Cume $68.8M

3. Kick Ass 2 (Universal) NEW [Runs 2,940] R
Friday $5.8M, Saturday $4.2M, Weekend $13.6M

4. Elysium (Sony) Week 2 [Runs 3,284] R
Friday $3.9M, Saturday $5.5M, Weekend $13.4M (-55%), Cume $55.7M

5. Planes (Disney) Week 2 [Runs 3,716] PG
Friday $3.6M, Saturday $5.6M, Weekend $13.2M (-41%), Cume $45.1M

6. Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters (Fox) Week 2 [Runs 3,080] PG
Friday $2.5M, Saturday $3.5M, Weekend $8.3M (-42%), Cume $38.9M

7. Jobs (Five Star/Open Road) NEW [Runs 2,381] PG13
Friday $2.6M, Saturday $2.3M, Weekend $6.7M

8. 2 Guns (Universal) Week 3 [Runs 2,471] R
Friday $1.7M, Saturday $2.4M, Weekend $5.6M, Cume $59.2M

9. The Smurfs 2 (Sony Animation) Week 3 [Runs 2,349] PG
Friday $1.3M, Saturday $1.9M, Weekend $4.6M, Cume $56.9M

10. The Wolverine (Fox) Week 4 [Runs 2,058] R
Friday $1.2M, Saturday $1.8M, Weekend $4.4M, Cume $120.4M

13. Paranoia (IM Global/Relativity) NEW [Runs 2,459] PG13
Friday $1.3M, Saturday $1.3M, Weekend $3.6M

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

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