‘The Help’ puts in overtime at No. 1 with $19M

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LOS ANGELES (AP) - “The Help” stayed on the job over Labor Day, finishing as the No. 1 film for the third-straight weekend.

The acclaimed drama about Southern black maids speaking out during the civil-rights movement took in $19 million over the long holiday weekend, according to studio estimates Monday.

That raised the film’s domestic total to $123.4 million. “The Help” also has begun rolling out overseas, pulling in $1.7 million in its first international market, Australia.

A DreamWorks Pictures release distributed by Disney, “The Help” has been a triumph amid a rush of late-summer duds that ended Hollywood’s busiest season. Another batch of new movies this weekend packed in modest to small crowds.

“‘The Help’ is literally in a league of its own at the end of a summer movie season where the competition was virtually non-existent,” said Paul Dergarabedian, box-office analyst for Hollywood.com. “It’s a really good movie that happened to land in the perfect spot at the perfect time. They are really just reaping the benefit of the worst dog days of August that we have seen in years.”

Best among the newcomers was Focus Features’ Holocaust-revenge thriller “The Debt” at No. 2 with $12.6 million from Friday to Monday. “The Debt” stars Helen Mirren and features “The Help” co-star Jessica Chastain.

The Weinstein Co. sci-fi horror tale “Apollo 18” opened at No. 3 with $10.7 million. Another fright flick, Relativity Media’s “Shark Night 3D,” debuted at No. 4 with $10.3 million.

A handful of other movies opened in narrower release well outside the weekend’s top 10, including Visio Entertainment’s golf drama “Seven Days in Utopia,” which stars Robert Duvall and Lucas Black and pulled in a modest $1.6 million.

Pantelion Films’ action comedy “Saving Private Perez” debuted with $830,000, while Samuel Goldwyn Films’ sex comedy “A Good Old Fashioned Orgy” opened with just $153,000.

While holdover films almost always have big drops in revenue in subsequent weekends, “The Help” did the same business this past Friday to Sunday as it did a week earlier.

Starring Viola Davis, Emma Stone and Octavia Spencer, “The Help” has followed the path of the book on which it is based, which became a literary phenomenon through word-of-mouth among readers.

The film began solidly with a No. 2 opening, then rose to its three-week reign at No. 1 as fans talked it up to friends.

“The Help” gave Hollywood a slight boost over Labor Day weekend a year ago. Overall domestic revenues for the four days came in at $139 million, up 5 percent from the same weekend last year, when “The American” opened at No. 1 with $16.7 million, according to Hollywood.com.

Domestic receipts from the first weekend in May through Labor Day finished at about $4.38 billion, up a fraction from summer 2010 revenues, Hollywood.com estimates.

But factoring in this year’s higher ticket prices, actual movie attendance was down slightly, the fourth-straight summer that admissions have dropped.

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