Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2,933 screens) easily outshone all other films at the box office this weekend, earning $25 million, a figure above what most predictors expected it to bring in. The film cost $30 million to produce. Based on the true story of an African-American butler (Forest Whitaker) who worked in the White House under six presidents, The Butler was particularly popular with women (60% of viewers) and people over 35 (76% of viewers). It played most strongly in the Northeast and especially Washington, D.C., where the film is set.
It is fairly typical that distribution companies release dramatic features aimed at women and older audiences in mid to late August. After a summer of tentpoles and 3D sci-fi blockbusters, these demographics are starved for films that don’t feature men in capes or multiple explosions. The Butler was originally slated for an October opening, but TWC wisely decided to take advantage of this late-summer demand, a choice that the studio is no doubt very happy with.
The Weinstein Company can also attribute much of The Butler’s success this weekend to its popularity among African-American audiences, many of whom went to see the film with their church groups. TWC reached out to many religious leaders in the black community to promote The Butler, a popular practice among studios when releasing black- and civil rights-themed movies. A special trailer, altered from the one shown in theatres, was created to appeal to church parishioners, and the company even produced a “scripture guide” meant to promote faith-based discussion in relation to the film. Black audiences made up 39% of total Butler tickets purchased this weekend, a very high percentage.
Unfortunately for Universal, Kick-Ass 2 (2,940 screens) did even more poorly this weekend than expected. The studio had predicted earnings of nearly $20 million, identical to Kick-Ass’s take its opening weekend three years ago. However, the sequel—which was made for $28 million—only grossed about $13.5 million, or less than 70% of its expected profits. This put it in a near tie with Elysium, now in its second week in theatres. However, Elysium earned about $40,000 more than Kick-Ass 2, placing the sci-fi thriller in third place above the superhero sequel, which came in at fourth. Surprisingly, We’re the Millers, also in its second week, continued to perform well, grossing $17.8 million and landing in second place behind The Butler. We’re the Millers now has the smallest drop in earnings (just 33%) between its opening and second weekend of any film of the summer.
Like Kick-Ass 2, the two other features opening this weekend, Jobs and Paranoia, both underperformed. Though they were both smaller releases, Open Road Films and Relativity Media, respectively, had expected better showings. Jobs (2,381 screens) (a biopic of Apple founder Steve Jobs, played by Ashton Kutcher) made $6.7 million and achieved a seventh place finish. Paranoia (2,459 screens), by far the worst-reviewed film currently in theatres, managed to dredge up a paltry $3.5 million—a disaster for a film which cost ten times that amount to make, and which stars up-and-coming leading man Liam Hemsworth (The Hunger Games) as well as film royalty Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman.