Contagion shot to the top of the box office, as one would expect of such a high-profile thriller, while Warrior mustered little support and Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star and Creature ranked among the worst openings ever.
Not quite in the hot zone, Contagion's spread was contained at $22.4 million on close to 3,900 screens at 3,222 locations. Among September opening grosses, it ranked 17th, and it was a bit behind last September's top thriller The Town ($23.8 million). Its most comparable past movie, Outbreak, started at $13.4 million, or the equivalent of nearly $25 million adjusted for ticket price inflation, but that was in 1995, when first weekends were less pronounced and movies had more room to play out. Contagion could match or even exceed Outbreak's $67.7 million final haul, but it won't likely have more than 60 percent of the attendance. Distributor Warner Bros. noted that Contagion's polled audience composition was evenly split between genders and 81 percent age 25 years and older.
In second place, The Help continued its hearty run, despite taking its steepest hit yet. The book adaptation was down a respectable 39 percent from last weekend's holiday-enhanced result, earning $8.9 million. Its tally grew to $137.3 million in 33 days, surpassing The Smurfs to chart 14th for 2011 so far.
Though it was pumped up as a crowd pleaser, Warrior lacked punch in its debut, even by the sports drama genre's modest standards. It drew $5.2 million on nearly 2,100 screens at 1,869 locations, which was a lightweight result compared to The Fighter's $12.1 million and Fighting's $11.0 million, among past similar movies. Distributor Lionsgate's research showed that 66 percent of Warrior's audience was male and 51 percent was age 25 years and older. The movie, though, received an "A" in CinemaScore's audience polling, compared to Contagion's sickly "B-."
Colombiana rounded out the Top Five with $3.95 million ($29.7 million sum in 17 days), followed closely by Rise of the Planet of the Apes with $3.89 million ($167.8 million sum in 38 days). In a minor surprise, Colombiana held a bit better than Apes, dropping 47 percent versus 51 percent.
Labor Day's dueling horror movies, Apollo 18 and Shark Night 3D, were true to their genre and bled profusely, but they switched places. Shark ranked higher this time with $3.41 million (down 59 percent), while Apollo took in $2.85 million (down 67 percent). With more weekday pull, though, Apollo's ten-day total was higher than Shark's, $14.9 million to $14.7 million, respectively.
In limited release, Kevin Hart's Laugh at My Pain impressed with $1.9 million at 98 locations, slotting 13th for the weekend. It was easily the best-performing comedy concert movie since Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat in 2002.
Overall, the weekend was the low point of 2011, tallying $82 million, but that's common for the time of year. The post-Labor Day weekend is consistently the weakest or near the bottom of each year.