Update: On Thursday, it was a photo finish between The Help and Rise of the Planet of the Apes for the top spot. Help made $4.334 million, while Apes drew $4.329 million.
Tallying $9.9 million in two days, Help's Wednesday-to-Thursday drop was 21 percent, holding better than past August female-driven Wednesday openers The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (44 percent) and The Princess Diaries 2 (33 percent) at the same point, but worse than Freaky Friday (19 percent).
Apes' opening week tallied $77.4 million, exceeding the comparable grosses of X-Men: First Class ($73.9 million), G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra ($76.3 million) and I, Robot ($73.4 million) and ranking as the fourth highest-grossing August opening week ever. Planet of the Apes (2001) racked up $96.2 million in its first week, or the equivalent of $135.5 million, normalized for ticket-price inflation.
Previously: On Wednesday, The Help debuted to an estimated $5.5 million on approximately 3,100 screens at 2,511 locations, claiming first place for the day over Rise of the Planet of the Apes' $4.9 million.
It's not unprecedented for a female-driven drama to make a splash in August, especially one based on a popular book. Julie & Julia and Eat Pray Love saw opening weekends of $20.1 million and $23.1 million, respectively, though they had traditional Friday launches. The Help's marketing campaign has been in full swing for weeks, promoting the movie as a feel-good ensemble comedy-drama, but the book's branding has been the star.
Three recent younger-skewing female-driven August movies fared better than The Help in their Wednesday launches, though two were sequels and one was a remake. In 2008, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 had a $5.7 million Wednesday that resulted in a $10.7 million weekend (for $19.6 million in five days). In 2004, The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement nabbed an $8.5 million Wednesday, leading to a $23 million weekend ($37.1 million in five days). The Freaky Friday remake in 2003 grabbed $6 million in its Wednesday opening on its way to a $22.2 million weekend ($33.1 million five-day).
In Box Office Mojo's "when will you see it" reader polling, The Help scored over seven percent for opening weekend, which was significantly better than The Secret Lives of Bees' 4.1 percent. Secret Life had a $10.5 million first weekend at 1,591 locations. Interest in The Help, though, wasn't as high as Julie & Julia (11.7 percent opening weekend) and Eat Pray Love (9.6 percent).
The Help's opening means it's in the mix for the weekend top spot, along with fellow new release Final Destinaton 5, but Rise of the Planet of the Apes is still the main contender. With a $73 million tally in six days, Apes has out-grossed X-Men: First Class and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra through the same point. Based on past comps, its trajectory points to a $23-25 million second weekend.