By Sandy Cohen
LOS ANGELES — Lee Daniels’ The Butler is serving up success at the box office.
Starring Forest Whitaker as a longtime White House butler and Oprah Winfrey as his wife, the Weinstein Co. biopic debuted in the top spot with $25 million, according to studio estimates Sunday. But the weekend’s three other major new releases, including the action romp Kick-Ass 2, failed to find traction with fans.
“We expected to do well, but we didn’t expect to do this well,” said Erik Lomis, president of distribution and home entertainment for Weinstein Co., adding that The Butler is the company’s first No. 1 debut since 2009’s Inglourious Basterds.
Even with a full slate of newcomers, last week’s top movies claimed the second and third spots in the box-office race. The Warner Bros. comedy We’re the Millers, starring Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston, held onto second place in its second week of release with $17.78 million, while last week’s No. 1, Sony’s Elysium, dropped to third with $13.6 million.
“It was tough if you were any other film opening other than The Butler,” said Paul Dergarabedian of box-office tracker Hollywood.com.
Kick-Ass 2, Universal’s tale of everyday teenagers who dress up as superhero crime-fighters, opened in fourth place with $13.56 million. Open Road’s Steve Jobs biopic, Jobs, debuted in seventh place with $6.7 million. And Relativity’s Paranoia, which stars Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman and Liam Hemsworth, didn’t crack the top 12.
“Maybe it should have been Oprah Winfrey’s Jobs,” Dergarabedian said. “It would have had a better shot.”
Apart from Winfrey’s unmatched marketing power, The Butler also marked the mogul’s return to the big screen for the first time since 1998’s Beloved.
“She was a significant factor” in the film’s success this weekend, Lomis said. “Her publicity machine really kicked into high gear, and the entire cast, Lee Daniels and Forest Whitaker, they delivered a quality film and a great campaign.”
The summer typically belongs to superheroes and big-action fare, which is why Weinstein chose to release The Butler now.
“It’s different from pretty much everything else in the marketplace,” Lomis said. “That really seemed to help.”