Moviegoers get a shot of ‘Contagion’!

The fall movie season kicks off with an all-star cast and director Steven Soderbergh at the helm of Warner Bros.’ Contagion which looks to top the chart that has been dominated by “The Help” for almost the past month. The film inoculated the marketplace with a $23.1 million debut as the cast including Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne and Marion Cotillard drew sophisticated audiences looking for a taut, brainy thriller. Contagion was IMAX’s first thriller and proved to be another winner for the giant screen company with $2.3 million for the weekend and right in that 10% sweet spot.

Disney’s The Help from Dreamworks Pictures winds up its 5th weekend with nearly $140 million in hard earned cash. A 40% weekend drop allowed the film to vacuum up just $8.7 million as it continues to draw fans on its way to a $150 million plus gross. (Note: the number one and number two films this weekend, Contagion and The Help, were both co-financed by Participant Media)

The 3rd place contender with close to $5.6 million is Lionsgate’s knockout of a film Warrior starring Inception’s Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton as brothers who wind up competing in a high stakes Mixed Marshal Arts (MMA) tournament. Nick Nolte in an Oscar-worthy performance plays their estranged, recovered alcoholic father who is suddenly thrust into the role as trainer for one of his sons who winds up on a collision course with his brother. A well-deserved CinemaScore of “A” should keep this one in the fight in the coming weeks.

A stronger-than-expected Labor Day weekend debut and solid mid-week grosses by The Debt from Focus Features landed the film in 4th place with $4.9 million. The espionage thriller boasts a terrific cast and an effective marketing campaign that captures the essence of the intriguing and unusual plot of the film. The film has earned $22 million to date.

Rounding out the top 5 is Sony’s action thriller Colombiana which has held better than expected as strong word-of-mouth propels the film. $4.0 million in its 3rd weekend and a 46% weekend drop bring its total to $29.8 million.

Fox’s mega-hit Rise of The Planet of the Apes deserves mention for nearly breaking into the top 5 in its sixth weekend with another $3.875 million. The film maintains a tight grip on audiences as it approaches the $170 million mark in North America.

A typical post-Labor Day slowdown gives us the lowest grossing weekend of the year so far, but a strong pipeline of Fall films should reverse the slowdown in short order.

Weekend Box Office

Top Movies for Weekend of September 9, 2011 (estimates)

Movie Weekend Gross Total to Date 

1.  Contagion (PG13) $23.1M $23.1M 
2.  The Help (PG13) $8.7M $137.1M 
3.  Warrior (PG13) $5.6M $5.6M 
4.  The Debt (R) $4.9M $22.0M 
5.  Colombiana (PG13) $4.0M $29.8M