'One Direction: This Is Us,' with Harry Styles, had a good debut, but couldn't knock 'Lee Daniels' The Butler' out of first place.
(Photo: Christie Goodwin)
Hollywood's summer ended this holiday weekend much the way it behaved all season - with record ticket sales and a jaw-dropping dud.
The industry's most critical quarter, which accounts for more than 40% of ticket sales all year, concluded over the Labor Day weekend with strong turns from a civil rights hit and a boy-band taking over the planet - and despite a turkey that became the worst-reviewed movie of the year.
Lee Daniels' The Butler staged an 11th-hour rally over the four-day holiday, taking the top spot for the third straight weekend with $20 million, according to studio estimates.
The Forest Whitaker drama about a real-life White House butler became the first film of the year to take the box-office crown for three straight weekends. And it capped a strong rally to overcome the concert movie One Direction: This Is Us, which finished second with $18 million, meeting most projections.
Direction earned a surprising number of recommendations from reviewers. About 68% of critics gave it a thumbs-up, while 79% of fans enjoyed the documentary, which follows the young band on and behind stage.
"Sony took advantage of perfect timing, with the only new release geared toward teenage girls this weekend," says Dave Karger of online ticket broker Fandango. "Labor Day traditionally represents that last great blast of summer, and the 1D movie represented the perfect party movie for the back-to-school crowd on a three-day weekend."
Labor Day wasn't so kind to other weekend films. Getaway, the Ethan Hawke thriller about a retired race car driver, barely cracked the top 10, but established itself with another achievement: It became the most critically panned movie of 2013. Just 2% of critics gave the film a thumbs-up, supplanting Paranoia, the Harrison Ford political thriller that earned just a 3% approval rating when it opened Aug. 23.
Fans weren't much kinder to Getaway, as just 52% said they liked it, Rottentomatoes.com says, leaving it stalled in 10th place with $5.5 million.
The raunchy comedy We're the Millers took third place with $15.9 million, followed by the Disney comedy Planes with $10.7 million.
Instructions Not Included became the biggest Spanish-language opener ever in North America, doing $10 million and capturing fifth place.
The sporadic performances still pushed the industry to a record Labor Day weekend and summer. The weekend films tallied more than $150 million, breaking 2011's record of $139 million. And summer's overall ticket sales of $4.7 billion eclipses the record of $4.4 billion, also set in 2011.
"The perception is the season was down because of the high-profile misses, but it was actually a strong summer," says Hollywood.com's Paul Dergarabedian. "I'm not sure how you explain it."
Rory Bruer, distribution chief for Sony, says the answer may rest in the performance of films like Direction.
"It's magic" he says. "Or destiny. Or something."