WINNER OF THE WEEK: Lee Daniels' The Butler. For the second straight weekend, the Civil Rights epic swept away all newcomers. The Butler easily won the weekend with an estimated $17.0 million, down just 31 percent from last week's debut. Its total to date of $52.3 million means that it's well on the way to $100 million. Credit strong reviews, positive word-of-mouth, and good timing (this weekend marked the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's March on Washington).
Also a winner: The World's End. The apocalyptic pub-crawl comedy opened in fourth place with an estimated $8.9 million. That's about what was expected, and it's well ahead of the movie's predecessors, Hot Fuzz (which opened with $5.8 million in 2007) and Shaun of the Dead ($3.3 million in 2004). Its per-screen average of $5,773 (on 1,549 screens) was the highest of any wide-release movie this weekend. Given the film's reported $20 million budget, World's End should easily turn a profit over the coming weeks.
World's End's feat is especially impressive given that it's competing with the still-strong We're the Millers for the R-rated comedy audience. That movie, in its third week of release, held on to second place with an estimated $13.5 million, for a total of $91.7 million so far.
LOSERS OF THE WEEK: Chillers. The makers of The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones hoped that the new adaptation of Cassandra Clare's novel would launch a franchise and become the next Twilight. Instead, it looks like the next The Host or Beautiful Creatures. Opening in third place, it scored an estimated $9.3 million from Friday to Sunday, for a five-day total of $14.1 million since it was released on Wednesday. That's on the low end of expectations. The film earned a solid B+ at CinemaScore, indicating strong word-of-mouth – but you had to get them into the theater first, and Mortal Instruments averaged just $2,983 per screen, about half of what World's End made.
It's possible that Mortal Instruments and You're Next took fatal bites of each other's audiences. You're Next came riding in on waves of strong buzz and even earned good critical reviews for a horror/home-invasion flick. But it didn't actually play that well to audiences, who gave it a weak B- at CinemaScore. It opened in seventh place with an estimated $7.1 million and a $2,893 per-screen average. Pre-Labor Day weekend used to be considered a good weekend for horror, but it's possible that audiences have had their fill of horror and home-invasion movies, given the successes earlier this summer of The Purge and The Conjuring (which, over the past six weeks, has quietly amassed $131.8 million).
'MASTER'-PIECE THEATER: Wong Kar-Wai's visually opulent martial arts epic The Grandmaster had the best per-screen average of the weekend; though it opened on just 7 screens, it grabbed an estimated $132,000, or $18,900 per venue. SXSW drama favorite Short Term 12 did nearly as well per screen, averaging $15,025 at each of four venues, for a $60,100 debut. Elsewhere at the art-house, Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine finally went wide (on 1, 283 screens) and cracked the top 10. In ninth place, it earned an estimated $4.3 million, for a five-week total of $14.8 million. That's the biggest saturation release of any film in Allen's four-decades-plus career; even recent smash Midnight in Paris never played on more than 1,038 screens in North America.