The Butler, a star-studded drama inspired by African-American Eugene Allen who served as a White House butler to eight presidents, was the top draw at North American cinemas this weekend.
Lee Daniels’ new movie, which stars Forest Whitaker, took an estimated $25 million in the US and Canada between Friday and Sunday.
“We did not expect it to do this well,” said a spokesman for its distributor.
In contrast, comic book sequel Kick-Ass 2 could only manage fourth place with a first weekend haul of $13.5 million.
That was less than the $19.8 million its predecessor made in its first weekend in the US and Canada in April 2010.
Kick-Ass 2‘s takings were swelled, however, by the $6.3 million it made in ticket sales outside North America.
According to The Weinstein Company’s Erik Lomis, the involvement of Oprah Winfrey was “a significant factor” in The Butler‘s success.
“Her publicity machine really kicked into high gear,” he said of the talk show queen, whose appearance as Forest Whitaker’s wife marks her first starring role since 1998’s Beloved.
“An Oprah Winfrey endorsement virtually guarantees you a hit,” agreed Paul Dergarabedian of box office analysts Hollywood.com.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, The Butler appealed strongly to black church-goers, a demographic specifically courted in its promotional materials.
Starring Forest Whitaker as the fictional manservant Cecil Gaines, Lee Daniels’ The Butler co-stars Robin Williams, John Cusack, Mariah Carey and Jane Fonda.
The film’s slightly tortuous nomenclature came about after the Weinstein Company lost a legal battle with Warner Brothers over the right to use the title The Butler.
Warner Bros comedy We’re the Millers held onto second place in this week’s chart, making $17.8 million in its second week in US and Canadian cinemas.
Last week’s top film, Matt Damon’s sci-fi thriller Elysium, dropped to third place after making an estimated $13.6 million between Friday and Sunday.
Jobs, starring Ashton Kutcher as the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, was the third new entry in this week’s Top 10, claiming seventh place with a first weekend tally of $6.7 million.
That was almost twice as much made by Paranoia, a corporate espionage thriller starring Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford that made its debut in 13th spot with a $3.5 million haul.
North American box office:
- Lee Daniels’ The Butler – $30.5 million
- We’re the Millers -$17.8 million
- Elysium – $13.6 million
- Kick-Ass 2 – $13.5 million
- Planes – $13.1 million