The weekend box office winner was "Lee Daniels' The Butler" the civil rights saga based on the life of actual presidential butler Eugene Allen, who lived through many key parts of African-American history. Because of a lack of competition, the film managed to top the box office two weeks in a row, bringing in $52.3 million total domestically.
The box office champion opened to $24.6 million, a debut that was comparable to The Weinstein Company's "Django Unchained" in December. "The Butler," which features big-name actors like Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey and Cuba Gooding, Jr. beat out "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones," horror film "You're Next" and comedy "The World's End." In addition, the demographics of audiences have shifted in the film's second week, with more whites and less blacks going to see "The Butler."
"What happens is that when you get a picture that gets great reaction, word of mouth spreads," Eric Lomis, the president of distribution for TWC, told The Hollywood Reporter. Younger audiences boosted the historical drama's sales, with it only falling 31 percent in the second weekend.
"The Butler" also had favorable reviews for Whitaker, who played the silent and strong Cecil Gaines. His portrayal of an African-American father struggling to control his volatile son through turbulent times of racism impressed critics, who also noted Oprah's subtle and uncharacteristic performance— she played a dissatisfied, alcoholic mother who cheated on her husband.
The Civil Rights era drama may owe much of its success to its timing, however— it isn't threatened by other Oscar-worthy films during the end of August, but will still be considered in the categories for this year.
"'The Butler' is benefiting from a lack of competition because the big summer movies pretty much are played out, so now the calendar is wide open for some more niche titles to try and find an audience," Paul Sweeney, an analyst with Bloomberg Industries, told Bloomberg.com. "I think it'll play well for the next couple of weeks."
"The Butler" reportedly cost $30 million to make.