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Participant Media Can Boast ‘Contagion’ #1 & ‘The Help’ #2

Deadline.com By NIKKI FINKE | Friday September 9, 2011 @ 10:36pm PDT FRIDAY PM: This is shaping up as 2011′s lousiest box office weekend in North America with only $70M total grosses. Yes, even worse than Hurricane Irene’s. But no surprise which new North American movie is No. 1 tonight. 1. With $8M and an estimated $22+M weekend, it’s Warner Bros’ Contagion playing in 42% more theaters — 3,222 — than its nearest newcomer. This Participant Media-backed disease movie looked like yet another yikes-you’re-all-going-to-die formula pic. But I’m surprised it didn’t generate more appeal what with Oscar-winning Steven Soderbergh directing 6 Academy Award winners or nominees: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, and Laurence Fishburne. That added oomph to credited screenplay writer Scott Burns’ material. “Yes, it was important to be provocative and to scare people,” a Warner Bros exec tells me about the $60M-budget pic. “But both the print and trailer and TV campaign present a more well-rounded view of the mystery. We did sell the visceral experience — a smart and thrilling look at a  killer virus, the science behind it, and the aftermath.” Warner Bros took the film to Venice to solid reviews and conducted an aggressive consumer campaign. Besides, adult movies are working at the box office. 2. Entering its 5th weekend in release, DreamWorks/Disney’s hit dramedy The Help which is also backed by Participant Media made $2.6M going to $9M from 2,935 locations for the weekend. It’s estimated new cume of $137.4M by Monday. 3. This seemingly anticipated martial arts drama Warrior starring Tom Hardy (Bane in the next Batman) and Joel Edgerton was only released for 1,869 runs. It opened with $2M today for what could be a $6M weekend. Another disappointing opening for Lionsgate. Did last weekend’s sneaks let some wannasee steam escape? Will this hurt Hardy whom Hollywood execs consider a hot soon-to-be-star? 4. Focus Features’ adult holdover The Debt earned $1.5M today from 1,874 theaters and a projected $4.5M weekend for an estimated $21.6M cume by Monday. 5. Sony Pictures’ holdover Columbiana made $1.2M today from 2,354 runs for close to a $4M weekend and $29.7M cume. But I have it on good authority that Sony execs were hiding out at the Toronto Film Festival (where better-than-expected  Moneyball officially premiered tonight) rather than get tagged by Screen Gems’ R-rated Bucky Larson: Born To Be A Star which had one of the most annoying TV ad campaigns I’ve ever been assaulted by. Mercifully, its box office take was miniscule: $500K today and only $1.4M expected for the weekend. That wasn’t even enough to make it into the Top 10 (see below). Full analysis later: 6. Shark Night 3D (Relativity) Week 2 [2,848 Theaters] Friday $1.1M (-63%), Estimated Weekend $3.5M, Estimated Cume $14.8M 7. Rise Of the Planet Of The Apes (Fox) Week 6 [2,887 Theaters] Friday $1M, Estimated Weekend $3.4M, Estimated Cume $167.4M 8. Apollo 18 (Dimension/The Weinstein Co) Week 2 [3,330 Theaters] Friday $950K (-68%), Estimated Weekend $3M, Estimated Cume $15.1M 9. Our Idiot Brother (The Weinstein Co) Week 3 [2,396 Theaters] Friday $800K, Estimated Weekend $2.6M, Estimated Cume $21.3M 10. Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark (Warner Bros) Week 3 [2,251 Theaters] Friday $700K, Estimated Weekend $2.2M, Estimated Cume $31M