By Lisa Richwine and Chris Michaud
LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK Aug 18 "Lee Daniels' The
Butler," a civil rights drama starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah
Winfrey, surpassed expectations and easily won the weekend box
office battle, debuting with $25 million in U.S. and Canadian
ticket sales through Sunday.
Jennifer Aniston comedy "We're the Millers" finished in the
No. 2 slot, earning $17.8 million in its second weekend,
according to studio estimates. Last weekend's box office leader,
Matt Damon sci-fi thriller "Elysium," fell to third place with
"Kick-Ass 2," a comedy sequel about a pair of teenage
crime-fighting superheroes, languished in fourth place with
$13.6 million in its first three days.
Ahead of the weekend, box office forecasters had predicted a
close race between "The Butler" and "Kick-Ass," with projections
for each running as high as $20 million-plus.
But audiences gravitated to "The Butler," a critically
praised drama directed by Lee Daniels and featuring talk show
host Winfrey in her first acting role in 15 years.
The film is inspired by the life of Eugene Allen, an
African-American who served as a White House butler to eight
U.S. presidents. Whitaker plays the butler opposite Winfrey as
his chain-smoking, hard-drinking wife, Gloria.
Entertainment mogul Winfrey promoted the film to her large
fan base through media interviews and on her cable network, OWN.
Seventy-two percent of "Butler" ticket buyers said Winfrey's
role increased their interest in the film, according to a poll
on the Fandango movie website.
Both Winfrey and Whitaker won applause from critics, with 73
percent recommending "The Butler" in reviews collected on the
Rotten Tomatoes website.
"We expected it to do well. We did not expect it to do this
well," said Erik Lomis, distribution president for the Weinstein
Co, the privately held company that distributed the movie.
Weinstein decided to release the film in August to
capitalize on a lack of adult dramas in theaters, Lomis said.
"That audience is underserved at this time of year," he noted.
The film had a modest budget of around $25 million, financed
by 28 investors, and Lomis said he expected the audience, which
was 60 percent female and more than three-quarters over age 35,
"will broaden out. Word of mouth is really strong."
"Kick-Ass 2" stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson as costumed teenage
hero Kick-Ass and Chloe Moretz as his sidekick known as Hit
Girl. Jim Carrey, who criticized the movie's violence after
filming was completed, plays Colonel Stars and Stripes, an
ex-soldier leading a band of amateur masked vigilantes.
The film was produced by Comcast Corp's Universal
Pictures and independently financed with a budget of $28
million. The sequel's opening weekend sales lagged behind the
first "Kick-Ass," which debuted with $19.8 million at North
American (U.S. and Canadian) theaters in April 2010.
Nikki Rocco, president of Universal's distribution unit,
said the sequel was a low-risk bet.
"I hope that whenever there are misses, they are like this
one," Rocco said. "In this case, it's a very minimum risk."
"Kick-Ass 2" added another $6.3 million in international ticket
Rounding out the top of the charts, Walt Disney Co
animated movie "Planes" earned the No. 5 slot with $13.1 million
in its second weekend.
"Jobs," a new drama starring Ashton Kutcher as legendary
Apple Inc co-founder Steve Jobs, pulled in $6.7 million
for seventh place. The film, which chronicles 30 years of the
late tech and computer entrepreneur's life, was produced for
$8.5 million, according to the Box Office Mojo website.
Open Road Films, a joint venture between theater owners
Regal Entertainment Group and AMC Entertainment Inc
, distributed "Jobs."
Corporate espionage thriller "Paranoia," starring Gary
Oldman, Harrison Ford and Liam Hemsworth, debuted in the No. 13
spot with $3.5 million. Relativity Media acquired U.S. marketing
rights for "Paranoia" and eOne distributed the movie in Canada.