The DreamWorks Pictures film starring Viola Davis, Emma Stone and Octavia Spencer in a drama about Southern black maids had debuted in second-place a week earlier. "The Help" raised its domestic total to $71.8 million and bumped 20th Century Fox's "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," which slipped to No. 2 with $16.3 million after two weekends at the top, according to studio estimates Sunday.
"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" remains a solid hit, lifting its domestic total to $133.8 million.
Much as Kathryn Stockett's novel "The Help" became a best-seller through readers talking it up, the film is holding strong as audiences tell friends to go see it, said Dave Hollis, head of distribution for Disney, which releases DreamWorks films.
While revenues often drop 50 percent or more in the second weekend for big studio films, receipts for "The Help" were down only 21 percent from opening weekend.
"It is a rare feat to see a film not open at No. 1 and then become No. 1," Hollis said. "To me, it's a testament of it being a great film, as well as the viral nature of the word of mouth about it."
A rush of new movies had weak openings: the Weinstein Co. family sequel "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World" at No. 3 with $12 million; Lionsgate's action remake "Conan the Barbarian" at No. 4 with $10 million; the DreamWorks-Disney horror-comedy remake "Fright Night" at No. 5 with $8.3 million; and Focus Features' literary adaptation "One Day" at No. 9 with $5.1 million.
Overall domestic revenues slid for the first time in five weekends. Receipts totaled $124 million, down 3 percent from the same weekend last year, when "The Expendables" led with $17 million, according to box-office tracker Hollywood.com.
Other than "Fright Night," the new movies were panned by critics, and audiences were apathetic about all of the newcomers. "This is the reason the term dog days of August was invented," said Hollywood.com analyst Paul Dergarabedian. "Other than the `The Help' and to some extent `Rise of the Planet of the Apes,' everybody else got beat up this weekend. This was one of those really slow, turn-movie-theaters-into-a-ghost-town weekends."
Three of the new movies - "Spy Kids," "Conan the Barbarian" and "Fright Night" - had the benefit of higher-priced 3-D screenings, but none were able to capitalize.
Robert Rodriguez's fourth "Spy Kids," featuring Jessica Alba as an agent whose step-kids get in on the espionage action, also added odor to the picture with scratch-and-sniff cards handed out to viewers so they could smell what the characters were smelling.
The gimmick failed to pack in crowds, though, with the sequel's revenues coming in at barely a third of the $33.4 million debut for the last "Spy Kids" flick in 2003.
"Conan the Barbarian" stars Jason Momoa as the fierce warrior played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1980s original. "Fright Night" features Colin Farrell as a vampire going after a neighbor (Anton Yelchin) who discovers he's a blood-sucker. Based on David Nicholls' best-seller, "One Day" casts Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess as friends in a decades-long romantic dance that plays out on the same day each year.
With solid reviews, Disney executives thought "Fright Night" would offer a good mix of scares and laughs for fans in their late teens and early 20s. But distribution boss Hollis said "Fright Night" fell victim to an issue that has troubled studios all summer: How do you bring out younger crowds when they have so many personal entertainment options, from video games to downloading movies?
"What happened here has been a problem for the industry for a long time, and that's just how do you crack the nut with young adults?" Hollis said. "They've been increasingly finicky."
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Where available, latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.
1. "The Help," $20.5 million.
2. "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," $16.3 million.
3. "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World," $12 million.
4. "Conan the Barbarian," $10 million.
5. "Fright Night," $8.3 million.
6. "The Smurfs," $8 million ($35.3 million international).
7. "Final Destination 5," $7.7 million.
8. "30 Minutes or Less," $6.3 million.
9. "One Day," $5.1 million.
10. "Crazy, Stupid, Love," $5 million.
Universal and Focus are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.; Sony, Columbia, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc.; Disney, Pixar and Marvel are owned by The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is owned by Filmyard Holdings LLC; 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are owned by News Corp.; Warner Bros. and New Line are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a group of former creditors including Highland Capital, Anchorage Advisors and Carl Icahn; Lionsgate is owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; IFC is owned by Rainbow Media Holdings, a subsidiary of Cablevision Systems Corp.; Rogue is owned by Relativity Media LLC.