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'The Butler' Tops Weekend Box Office for Second Week

By Jake Coyle

NEW YORK -- Lee Daniels' The Butler served up a second helping at the box office, topping the weekend with $17 million, according to studio estimates Sunday.

That was enough to lead all films on a late August weekend known as a dumping ground for studios following their summer blockbusters and before the start of the fall movie-going season. Daniels' historical drama about a long-serving White House butler, starring Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, opened last weekend with $24.6 million for the Weinstein Co.

Three new releases failed to catch on. The teen fantasy Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, adapted from the popular young adult book series, opened tepidly in third with $9.3 million on the weekend and $14 million since opening Wednesday. With franchise hopes, Sony Screen Gems (SNE) has already started production on a sequel, again starring Lily Collins as a New York teenager who discovers she has mystical powers.

Edgar Wright's pub-crawl-gone-wrong comedy The World's End opened with $8.9 million for Focus Features (CMCSA). That was a better start for The World's End, which stars Simon Pegg, than Wright's last film, 2007's Hot Fuzz. It opened with $5.8 million. Playing in 1,549 theaters, The World's End did its business in less than half the theaters of The Butler or Mortal Instruments.

Despite good reviews, Lionsgate's (LGF) home-invasion horror flick You're Next opened weakly with $7.1 million.

With a cumulative total of $52.3 million, The Butler is headed for a domestic haul of $100 million. It has followed the release pattern of another movie about race and domestic service: the 2011 drama The Help, also released in August. The Weinstein Co. hopes that The Butler will similarly lead to Oscar nominations.

Paul Dergarabedian, analyst for box-office tracker Hollywood.com, attributed the success of The Butler particularly to the marketing power of Winfrey and a savvy choice of a release date with little competition.

"This is a film that you wouldn't want to open in June or July," Dergarabedian said. "The release date that the Weinstein Co. picked absolutely paid off for them."

In its third week of release, Warner Bros.' (TWX) R-rated road trip comedy We're the Millers, starring Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston, continued to thrive. It took in $13.5 million over the weekend, bringing its overall total to $91.7 million.

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