Weekend Box Office: LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER Serves $25 Million Debut; KICK-ASS 2 Falls to Fourth

     August 18, 2013


This weekend may have hosted four new titles, but audiences showed love to only one. Lee Daniels’ The Butler – a film that was barely on the radar when the summer began – opened in first place with an estimated $25 million. That left Kick-Ass 2 with a very disappointing fourth-place start and the biopic Jobs a distant seventh. Meanwhile, with just $3.5 million from 2,459 locations, new release Paranoia failed to make the top ten entirely.

 Title Weekend Total
1.  Lee Daniels’ The Butler $25,010,000 $25
2.  We’re the Millers $17,780,000 $69.5
3.  Elysium $13,600,00 $55.9
4.  Kick-Ass 2 $13,568,000 $13.5
5.  Planes $13,141,000 $45
6.  Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters $8,375,000 $38.9
7.  Jobs $6,700,000 $6.7
8.  2 Guns $5,600,000 $59.2
9.  The Smurfs 2 $4,600,000 $56.9
10.  The Wolverine $4,425,000 $120.4

the-butler-posterHow many of us read summer box office previews back in May? And how many featured a movie called The Butler? Chances are, if you heard about Lee Daniels’ The Butler at all before this week, it was in connection to the last-minute legal fight over its title. In July, Warner Bros. sought to have the words ‘The Butler’ stripped from the TWC release due to a 1916 silent short of the same name that is part of the WB library. TWC eventually won the right to keep the title ‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler’: giving the man who directed 2009’s Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire another awkwardly-titled hit.

If it began the summer under the radar, marketing for Lee Daniels’ The Butler kicked into high gear this week when co-star Oprah Winfrey, in her first leading role since 1998’s Beloved, hit the talk show circuit with a vengeance. Within days, the movie that had been expected to draw no more than $15 million in its opening was leading online ticket sales, culminating with today’s upset win over the younger-skewing Kick-Ass 2. The situation is drawing comparisons to The Help: another adult-friendly, late-summer hit set in the civil rights era.

The Help began its remarkable box office run with a $26 million debut on this weekend in 2011. The film eventually took in over $169 million in North America and secured several Oscar nominations, including a win for Octavia Spencer. For a film with Oscar hopes of its own, The Butler’s box office win is a promising start. Of course, The Help had incredible holds during its first month: rising to first place in its sophomore frame and staying put through the end of 2011’s Labor Day weekend. It’s hard to imagine that kind of box office lightning striking twice but, who knows? Reviews for The Butler have been on par with The Help so far (the film is currently at 73% on Rotten Tomatoes) and there isn’t much summer left. Word of mouth could keep The Butler going strong for the rest of August.

kick-ass-2-characters-posterSo where does that leave Kick-Ass 2? Apparently not as the “last must-see movie of the summer,” as the film’s marketing suggested. Kick-Ass 2 was expected to take first place this weekend with around $20 million, which would have put it on par with the $19.8 million the first Kick-Ass earned in April 2010. At the time, that opening was considered a big disappointment, but the film turned a solid profit on the secondary market which put its sequel aspirations back in play. Since Kick-Ass 2 has now had its ass handed to it by The Butler, it will probably have to look to DVD sales for rescue once again. The R-rated sequel is not enjoying great word of mouth (29% on Rotten Tomatoes) so a late-summer surge seems unlikely. The good news is that, like its progenitor, Kick-Ass 2 was relatively inexpensive. With a reported budget of $28 million, the sequel does not have far to go to make it past profitable… though I wouldn’t expect to see Kick-Ass 3 greenlit in a hurry.

With the swift demise of the R-rated Kick-Ass 2, the already solid We’re the Millers got a big box office boost this weekend. The R-rated comedy stayed in second place for a second frame, dropping just 33% from its opening last weekend. We’re the Millers has now earned a total of $69.5 million, putting it ahead of both 2011’s Horrible Bosses ($65.6 million) and 2008’s Tropic Thunder ($65.2 million) after twelve days in release.

paranoia-posterLast weekend’s top title, Elysium, saw a more standard drop of 54% this weekend, bringing its domestic total to $55.9 million after ten days. Elysium has yet to hit most international territories, however, where another of last weekend’s newcomers has been overperforming. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters hasn’t hit $40 million in North America (after twelve days it has earned as much as Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief made in four) but it is already a solid hit overseas. The sequel, which expands to thirty additional international territories this weekend, opened higher than the 2010 original in all of its original markets outside of the US. The film is still a long way from hitting its predecessor’s $227 million worldwide total but, so far, the decision to produce a second film in the series looks like a good one.

Behind Percy Jackson, way down in seventh place in fact, is this weekend’s third new release: Jobs. The bio of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was not expected to be a major box office player (distributor Open Road said it was hoping for a $9 million opening) and it has not bucked those expectations. From 2,381 locations, Jobs earned an estimated $6.7 million – a disappointing number until you compare it to fellow-newcomer Paranoia’s debut. The PG-13 thriller starring Liam Hemsworth and Harrison Ford debuted in more locations (2,459) than Jobs but took in just over half the biopic’s estimate. About the only thing separating Paranoia from joining the list of this summer’s biggest misses is the film’s budget. At a relatively thrifty $35 million, Paranoia does not come close to the budget-busting disaster of pricier films like R.I.P.D or The Lone Ranger.

With three new releases that missed the mark, this weekend’s overall box office fell below 2012 levels by about 3%. Next weekend should be a bit better, considering that last year’s pre-Labor Day frame saw only one title earn more than $10 million. At least three titles should hit double digits next week, including newcomers The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (opening Tuesday) and The World’s End.


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