August 13, 2011

THE BIJOU BOX OFFICE: Footnotes – 8/13/11


Let’s take a look at just how remarkably THE HELP is performing so far.  
The most obvious points of comparison are the literary-sourced, female-skewing hits of the last 2 Augusts:  Julie & Julia in 2009, and last year’s Eat Pray LoveJulia had a $20M opening that led to a $94M domestic gross; Eat was a little more front-loaded, with a $23M start on its way to an $80M total.  The Help will beat Julia‘s opening and has a fair chance of surpassing both of them–but only Help came to Friday with $10M already in the bank thanks to its Wednesday opening, which doesn’t seem to have dampened its weekend at all.  Also, while both Julia and Eat were escapist entertainments, with easily promotable subjects like gourmet food and fabulous foreign locations (along with stars like Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Julia Roberts), The Help is a serious period piece about the Civil Rights era that features Emma Stone only as part of an ensemble of mostly African-American actresses.    (These factors, however, may be more serious hindrances overseas, where Help is more likely to echo Julia‘s $35M boxoffice than Eat‘s lofty $124M.)  Oh, and Help‘s budget is $25M, far below Julia‘s $40M and Eat‘s $60M.
DreamWorks seems to have captured the audience that Lionsgate was hoping to get last year with Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls:  a combination of African-American and arthouse crowds.  It’s very hard to tell how this will play out over time, as the African-American audience is notoriously front-loaded (as has been the case with all of Perry’s movies), while arthouses are exactly the opposite.  In any case, The Help faces little direct competition over the next several weeks:  just One Day next Friday (which Focus has been oddly shy about marketing), Sarah Jessica Parker’s I Don’t Know How She Does It on September 16, and then on a more general prestige-movie level, Moneyball the following week.
Along with the immediate financial return, the success of The Help should help give it credence in the march to year-end awards–although this gets complicated.  DreamWorks has a little movie called War Horse on its way from studio patriarch Steven Spielberg, and that film will almost certainly get the lion’s share of the Best Picture push.  However, War Horse is less likely to be in contention for performance awards, so the way is clear for DreamWorks to push Help‘s cast for Best Actress and Supporting Actress.  The question, though, will be:  who in which category?  This is especially important for Viola Davis, who would probably be the early frontrunner for Supporting Actress right now, but arguably is as much the lead in Help as Emma Stone–however, if Davis chooses to campaign for Actress, she’ll face competition like Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.  
Of course, these are high-class problems to have.
The rest of the Friday numbers are far less interesting.  RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES had a perfectly decent hold, but one that feels a little soft given its supposedly excellent word of mouth. The flop of 30 MINUTES OR LESS demonstrates that Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari aren’t yet boxoffice draws, and that (especially combined with Your Highness earlier this year) Danny McBride is at best a cult figure who puts off as many people as he attracts.  FINAL DESTINATION 5 will probably top out at about $50M, but the big question is how it will do overseas, where the last chapter in the franchise almost doubled its US gross.  And GLEE 3D won’t make any profit (unless it scores a hit on homevideo), but serves as an infomercial for the TV series mothership.
A quiet week for limited releases, with the documentary SENNA pulling in the only opening of any note, a very solid $30-35K in each of its 2 theatres.  
When they talk about the dog days of summer, next weekend is what they mean.  Along with the previously mentioned and curiously unpublicized ONE DAY (starring Anne Hathaway, based on a high-quality, best-selling novel–where’s the buzz?), we get not one, not two, but three 3D reboots of pictures that weren’t all that good the first time:  CONAN THE BARBARIAN, FRIGHT NIGHT and SPY KIDS.  A good weekend to go to the beach, or catch up on your DVR queue.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."