Although it’s been in theaters for more than a month, Lee Daniels’ The Butler continued its strong box-office performance with a fourth-place finish that saw North American ticket sales cross the $100 million mark. With a production budget of approximately $30 million, in limited release internationally and awards season still ahead, The Butler is in strong contention for becoming one of the most profitable movies of 2013.
The top movie this weekend was horror film Insidious: Chapter 2, which debuted in first place with $41 million, more than tripling the opening take of the 2010 original. Another newcomer, Relativity Media’s Robert De Niro-Michelle Pfeiffer crime caper The Family, opened in second place with $14.5 million. That bumped last week’s champ, the Vin Diesel starrer Riddick, to third. Jennifer Aniston vehicle We’re The Millers rounded out the top five.
Vin Diesel helped light up what is usually a dark post-Labor Day box office period, with Universal’s franchise pic “Riddick” scoring a solid estimated $18.7 million domestically. The film claimed the weekend’s No. 1 spot, unseating the Weinstein Co.’s “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” which stayed strong in second place with $8.9 million. The three-week champ, which fell just 40% in its fourth frame, reached $91.9 million Stateside through Sunday.
Total domestic box office was up over this time last year by roughly 25%, thanks also to a excellent expansion for Lionsgate-Pantelion’s “Instructions Not Included.” The Hispanic-targeted crowdpleaser earned $8.1 million from just 717 locations, up from 384 last weekend, for a U.S. cume now past $20 million.
It was a sci-fi-themed weekend globally: Sony’s futuristic pic “Elysium” ranked first overseas with an estimated $21.2 million, of which China contributed $11.7 million in its first weekend locally. In total, “Elysium” has cumed $127 million internationally and $212 million worldwide.
While “Riddick” defied the post-Labor Day slump, the film still came in on the low-side of expectations. Pic opened with less than its predecessor’s $24 million debut in 2004, but the $38 million three-quel outperformed the original film, 2000′s “Pitch Black,” which grossed $11.6 million during opening weekend.
“We always try to find the right time for the right films,” said Universal distribution prexy Nikki Rocco. “This was an inexpensive venture for Universal, and we wanted Vin to have the No. 1 film.”
Not surprisingly, “Riddick” earned most of its opening from men, at 59%, with Hispanics contributing a sizable 37% of the gross. Imax also helped with fanboy appeal, posting $2.5 million of the domestic opening.
Just over a decade ago, Vin Diesel shot from near-obscurity to earning a $10 million payday in what seemed like record time, racing from an ensemble role in “Saving Private Ryan” to headlining “XXX” in nearly four years. But those who think of Diesel as an overnight action star don’t know the half of it.
“Vin is one of the most wildly misunderstood actor-producers out there,” says Universal co-chairman Donna Langley, whose connection with Diesel predates even 2001’s “The Fast and the Furious,” tracing back to “Boiler Room” at New Line.
While Diesel’s fans are familiar with his muscular physique and the trademark thunder-roll of his voice, what they don’t necessarily realize is just how much work Diesel puts into developing the movies they see as pure popcorn fun — or how hard he struggled to get to this point.
Before he became a star, Diesel broke through as an independent filmmaker, writing and directing work that was invited to screen at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals. And before he retires, Diesel will likely step behind the camera again, maybe even to direct his long-brewing passion project, “Hannibal.”