After four weeks of underestimating The Help , studio executives and movie pundits, may finally be learning not to underestimate The Help -- although there was no sign of that happening this past weekend. Four weekends ago the movie was dismissed as an unlikely challenger to Planet Of The Apes but finished within inches of beating it -- then rising to No. 1 the following day and never looking back. Over the four-day Labor Day holiday the movie earned $19.9 million -- nearly a million dollars more than the studio's estimate on Monday. Box office experts were searching their record books to find another film that had not started out in first place but that took over the lead and held onto it for three weeks thereafter. Actually no film has had a three-week run in the top spot since last year's Inception. Coming in second was The Debt , which also performed better than originally estimated, collecting $12.85 million. Two horror films presumably cannibalized each other's audience. The fright crowd split down the middle with Apollo 18 opening with $10.7 million and Shark Night with $10.1 million. (All figures are for the four-day holiday.)

The top ten films over the regular three-day weekend, according to final figures compiled by Box Office Mojo (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date, including Monday, Labor Day) 1. The Help, Disney, $14,594,623, 4 Wks. ($124,272,124); 2. The Debt , Focus, $9,909,499, 1 Wk. ($14,753,014)); 3. Apollo 18 , Weinstein Co. $8,704,271, 1 Wk. ($10,705,556); 4. Shark Night , Relativity Media, $8,404,260, ($10,126,458); 5. Rise of the Planet of the Apes , 20th Century Fox, $7,915,295, 5 Wks. ($162,550,178); 6. Colombiana, Sony/Tristar, $7,463,200, 2 Wks. ($24,132,335); 7. Our Idiot Brother , Weinstein Co. $5,450,884, 2 Wks. ($17,273,593); 8. Spy Kids All The Time in the World , Weinstein Co. $4,817,284, 3 Wks. ($31,201,190); 9. Don't Be Afraid of the Dark , Film District, $5,195,268, 2 Wks. ($17,882,416); 10. The Smurfs, Sony Animation/Columbia, $4,099,478, 6 Wks. ($133,676,705).

07/09/2011