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Lee Daniels’ The Butler Takes Number One for Third Consecutive Weekend

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Only three Best Picture nominees have ever been number one for 3 consecutive weeks, and no black writer/director is among them. This film should hit $100 million without blinking.  Here is how dominance at the box office has helped a film get a Best Picture nod, at the very least.

Three weeks at number one:
Unforgiven (winner)
Erin Brockovich
The Help
A Few Good Men
Inception
Fellowship of the Ring
Two Towers

Four weeks at number one:
Terms of Endearment (winner)
Platoon (winner)
Apollo 13
Saving Private Ryan
Return of the King (winner)

Five weeks at number one:
The Silence of the Lambs (winner)
The Sixth Sense
Rain Man (winner)

Six weeks at number one:
The Fugitive
E.T.

Seven weeks at number one:
On Golden Pond
Avatar

Eight weeks at number one:
Fatal Attraction

Thirteen weeks at number one:
Tootsie

Fifteen weeks at number one:
Titanic (winner)

If The Butler manages to take a fourth number one slot it could definitely get a boost towards winning the Best Picture Oscar. Many of my colleagues doubt this but the numbers don’t lie.  Let’s see how it plays out.

56 Comments on this Post

  1. One Direction is #1 at the box office Memorial Day weekend. The awful Butker is #2.

  2. I think there should be a caveat since this came out at the end of summer with really no big movies that threatened it. If this opened in late November this wouldn’t even be a story because it wouldn’t win more than one weekend. Not saying it’s not impressive, it is. If it were holiday season and this happened I would be with you that WINNING best pic would be likely. As it is, no way.

  3. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    Incorrect.

    Sasha is citing the 4-day Labor Day Weekend numbers.

    $20M for The Butler (in its 3rd week)
    $18M for 1 Direction (in its debut)

  4. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    I think there should be a caveat since this came out at the end of summer with really no big movies that threatened it.

    yeesh. Strange how suddenly Elysium isn’t a “big movie” anymore.

    In 4 weeks one of the most anticipated blockbusters of the summer has earned $80M
    In 3 weeks a movie with no ‘splosions or special effects has earned $79M

    Add those notes to your caveat.
    Then factor in how Elysium cost 4x more than The Butler to produce.

  5. john Oliver

    Don’t you mean Labor Day weekend?

  6. Not impressed no competition

  7. They didn’t come out the same week. I am not sure why you’re panties are in a bunch. It’s a great feat what The Butler has done. I just don’t think four weeks in a row at the end of summer with not much tentpole movies is cause to say it could in fact win best pic. Nuff said.

  8. Watch out! Don’t say that! Heaven forbid!

  9. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    I guess studios never expected Elysium or Kick-Ass 2 to make much money?

    There’s no competition from any other grown-up drama. But that can describe 45 weekends every year.

  10. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    yep, thanks John.

    (I’m that guy who acts like he knows everything but doesn’t know what day it is).

  11. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    They didn’t come out the same week.

    oh well then. Never mind the 3-weeks-in-a-row thing. That’s so easy for movies to do. Happens all the time, yeah? Look how well Elysium pulled off the same ‘feat.’

    4 movies that did it last year: TDKR, The Hunger Games, The Avengers, The Hobbit

    3 movies that did it in 2011: Twilight Finale, The Help

    Really common for a straight-up drama to hold onto the #1 spot 3 weeks in a row. Move along. Nothing remarkable to see here.

  12. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    3rd consecutive weekend at #1 for The Butler.

    Last time a straight-up drama accomplished that was The Help.

    Prior to that? The Passion of the Christ (2004)

  13. Ok. Here’s why some of you guys are dumb.

    Most of the movies listed lasted for multiple weeks in the olden times when movies stayed in the theater for months.

    In this era, you have movies that have great box office numbers come and go in a month. This is quiet the feat for a film that’s not full of special effects and action.

    I hope that it will stay in theaters long enough for field trips to happen. I think 6th grade and up can handle it and it’ll be a great way to teach American history to children. It hits enough highlights that the teachers can then spend weeks going over all the events in the film. Besides, I think it’s good for us as a nation.

  14. While I don’t exactly agree with Josh, I will say 2 things:

    1) Elysium is the ONLY big movie released in the last 4 weeks (budget and mass appeal wise)

    2. Elysium isn’t direct competition for the same audience as The Butler. They’re marketed to different groups of people. Now obviously this means that we really can’t judge this film’s success on the barometer of other late summer releases, but I think a better way of saying what Josh was trying to say is that BECAUSE The Butler has no direct competition in the late summer doldrums, it is able to clean up. Which may mean that its success is more a triumph of perfect timing instead of a real groundswell of public approval. If you put We’re The Millers out in early June, between Hangover 3 and This Is The End, it doesn’t do half the business it does in late August, once those flicks leave theaters. That’s just a savvy release strategy. The same can certainly apply for The Butler.

  15. I disagree with that. Indies expand year round, like Blue Jasmine and Fruitvale Station. There’s probably a suitable-for-adults drama in theaters for half the year. I’d say that’s a fair guess.

  16. Not that it isn’t remarkable. It is, in a way. But what’s particularly remarkable to me is how poor the performance of virtually everything else has been this month. It’s been a particularly rough month at the box office. I think people are avoiding most movies because the reviews have been god-awful for most things (like Jobs, Kick Ass 2, Mortal Instruments, Paranoia, Getaway) and the films that were well received have been horribly marketed to audiences (like The World’s End). The Butler happened to come out with a solid, direct marketing campaign and solid reviews, so it is seen as basically the only dependable option at the multiplex. Yes, it’s doing well. But everything else is doing so poorly. Again, I have to come back to We’re The Millers. I think with both Butler and that film, we’re looking at a situation where a few movies are doing really well at the expense of so many other failures, and if you put those two movies out next to comparable titles, they would get absolutely crushed. I really believe that.

  17. I beg to differ. Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, and Oprah are all ginormous liberals and therefore have the exact same fans. And BLUE JASMINE is its competition. I even went to that first myself. So, the fact that it’s hanging in against action and horror movies and kids’ stuff too is even more impressive.

  18. Jerry Grant

    Whether or not The Butler gets into a BP list will depend upon how good/bad the other nominees are. In a weaker year like 2009 or 2011, it would, like District 9 or An Education or The Blind Side or The Help or Extremely Loud. In a stronger year like 2010 or 2012, it wouldn’t. This one is looking to be a stronger year, so my money is on no inclusion ultimately.

  19. Yep, exactly.

  20. Josh,

    It doesn’t matter that The Butler opened when no big films threatened it. That’s precisely the reason ANYONE opens a film on a certain date. That is obvious marketing. Notice the way 12 Years a Slave didn’t open against The Butler and instead, is playing Telluride and Toronto. Marketing 101.

  21. Umm you’re making my point, so thanks. The reason it is winning the weekends is because they chose the timeframe where they thought it would do well. It’s great marketing but just because it’s winning these weeks does NOT equate any sort of ‘winning best picture’ conversation.

  22. Whether or not The Butler gets into a BP list will depend upon how good/bad the other nominees are.

    Pfft. Since when? That’s not how the Oscars work.

    THE BUTLER is in. Why? Firstly, it’s good enough. Secondably, Oprah. Thirdly, It’s Forrest Gump-y.

    I rest my case.

  23. You guys have a bad reputation of being rude to those who write something you don’t like (I guess we can’t express we dislike The Butler in this website anymore). I think you should really change that.

  24. Bennett, you are right.

    Ryan, that was extremely rude. IMO, a very unprofessional way to reply to a reader to your website. Don’t forget that you need readers here.

    I think you owe Mark an apology. It’d be nice of you.

  25. Sorry but I don’t think The Butler is best picture material. In terms of its look and oddball casting, it reminded me more of a TV mini or movie. Like one of those “The ’60s” or “The ’70s” minis that ran a decade ago. If it aspired to have the historical sweep of Forrest Gump it skipped too quickly over major events but without the wink-wink, self-aware style of Gump. It also failed to have that movie’s cinematic sweep. It looked like a TV movie. All medium shots. Quick, try and remember a really unforgettable image from it. Or vista. I myself come up blank. I think the cast did nice work – Winfrey and Whitaker will get their nods- but Daniels is just not a real visualist. I think that you have to separate the aesthetic quality here from natural sympathy for the civil rights movement. Important subject matter? Yes. Great piece of cinema? No. I don’t think so.

  26. A film’s ranking at the box office is less of a big deal that how much money it makes. There are films that didn’t even rank #1 for a single weekend that have made more money than “The Butler.”

  27. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    There are films that didn’t even rank #1 for a single weekend that have made more money than “The Butler.”

    Not sure I understand your argument Tony. Sounds almost as if you’re proposing the total amount of money a movie makes is a better indicator of its BP prospects than it’s hold on popularity.

    Any examples of a narrative drama where that’s been the case?

    For example, let’s be specific. On the basis of their total box-office gross, which of the movies that made more money than The Butler in 2013 do you think have a better chance at a BP nomination?

  28. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    Better than an apology, I’ll just delete those 6 words before Mark gets his feelings hurt.

    Thanks, Politeness Monitors.

  29. I agree with you 100%. It’s a decent movie but as you said, reminded me of a made for tv movie. It’s gonna get a best pic nom though for sure.

  30. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    This list of Best Picture nominees and Best Picture winners than might easily have been made for TV is a pretty long list.

  31. You are welcome, Ryan!

  32. Al Robinson

    You’re right (so far). As of the end of the Labor Day (4-day) weekend, The Butler is the highest grossing movie of the year that has any “real” chance of getting a Best Picture nomination.

    Ryan, do you think any of the yet-to-be-released Best Picture nominees will make more money than The Butler?

    I think the last year that the highest grossing movie of the whole year was actually (in my opinion) the best movie was in 2009 with Avatar. I still really love The Hurt Locker, but I just think Avatar was better.

  33. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    “Ryan, do you think any of the yet-to-be-released Best Picture nominees will make more money than The Butler?”

    Now there’s a unique and interesting question!

    Although it looks as if 2013 is going to have a more interesting selection of BP contenders than we might have thought a few months ago, I feel as if more than half of them might tip toward the type of artistry that doesn’t often get traction at the box-office.

    It’s going to sound simplistic and facile, but the fastest, dirtiest, easiest way to forecast box-office appeal weeks in advance is to take a look at the popularity of the lead actors and lead actresses who reliably attract serious adult audiences in autumn and winter.

    A list of BP hopefuls that might have the best chance of sailing past $100 in coming months would include these titles:

    Gravity
    The Counselor
    Monuments Men
    The Wolf of Wall Street
    American Hustle
    All Is Lost

    of the 20-odd movies that have already earned more than $100M this year, I think the only one that has a ghost of a chance is The Great Gatsby (a movie that nobody liked but me?)

  34. Al Robinson

    Taking directors into account:

    Martin Scorsese – #1 movie is The Departed ($132,384,315), and average is $41,086,300.

    George Clooney – #1 movie is The Ides of March ($40,962,534), and average is $29,975,548.

    David O. Russell – #1 movie is Silver Linings Playbook ($132,092,958), and average is $52,534,935.

    Alfonso Cuaron – #1 movie is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban ($249,541,069), but his other movies average is nothing near that. His number 2 movie is Children of Men, which earned around $35 million.

    Ridley Scott – #1 movie is Gladiator ($187,705,427), and average is $65,858,630.

    I don’t necessarily see any of their new movies making more money than The Butler. So, I’m going to go out on a limb, and predict that if The Butler gets a Best Picture nomination, it will be the biggest earner.

  35. Al Robinson

    You know, the interesting thing is, I can’t help but feel that The Butler is kind of like this year’s Lincoln. They both take place in the White House, both are about race, and both have a word-of-mouth that is making them both successful. Perhaps even more than originally expected to be.

    I haven’t seen The Butler, and I’m not planing on seeing it until I can rent it, but I did enjoy Lincoln last year.

  36. Al Robinson

    Although, Lincoln never hit #1 on the box office charts for a weekend, or a whole week.

  37. Al Robinson

    Which also made the most money of the 2011 Best Picture nominees.

  38. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    Cherry-picked list of 33 years of serious film dramas that were #1 at the box-office for 3 or more consecutive weeks. http://www.awardsdaily.com/blog/33-years-of-films-that-held-at-1-for-3-consecutive-weeks/

  39. Ryan,
    I’m merely saying that from a financial perspective, filmmakers care much more about a film’s total gross than they do about ranking #1 any particular week(s).
    “The Butler” had weak competition. Heck, a slight adjustment in the release date of “We’re the Millers” (which I have not seen and most likely won’t see) and everything would change.

  40. Daniel B.

    I love this site but there comes again the thing you are most famous for – shoving a movie down our throats. You are probably the only people that rave so much about The Butler. Wake up, it is not a BP nominee and probably won’t be. I wonder how many more publications will I see here about that movie.

  41. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    Here’s a friendly tip, Daniel. To avoid the discomfort of having something shoved down your throat, simply turn your head and close your mouth.

    If you’re not interested in The Butler then you might want to focus your attention on some of the hundreds of posts that don’t mention The Butler.

    Wonder how many times you’ll hear me say I like The Butler? At the end of the year I’ll add up how many items I’ve posted about The Butler and let you know, alright? Deal? For now, save yourself the aggravation. Really no need for you keep a tally.

  42. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    I’m not trying to be gruff, Daniel. I mean it sincerely. You haven’t commented here for 32 days. Why do you want to spend your energy composing a comment about the one movie that bugs you?

    I’d rather hear what you have to say about whichever movies you’re excited about.

    But I do understand that it would be wrong for me to tell you what to write about.

    So ok, you write whatever you want, and I will too. Is that not fair?

  43. That’s weird logic to suggest that because some of the actors in two wildly different movies from vastly different genres are liberal, that means that they would have the same fans.

  44. Btw, while I am no fan of Vin Diesel (have seen him only in “Boiler Room” and “Saving Private Ryan”), I hope that his movie is #1 next weekend — if only to take a break from “The Butler” until guilds and awards are imminent!

  45. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    The previous Riddick movie earned $24M and ticket prices have gone up 133% since 2004. So Riddick III could conceivably earn twice as much as The Butler a week from now. It only needs $20M to top the natural drop-off that The Butler will probably have next weekend. That’s a fairly pitiful bar to clear for a movie that cost $38M.

    But if you think Riddick at #1 means a break from us writing anything about The Butler that grabs our attention then I have bad news for you.

  46. I know. (I do remember the push for “The Social Network.”) But, if it’s not at the top of the box office, at least that’d be one less headline in the ether, one less reason to keep pushing it.

  47. Daniel B.

    Ok, Ryan. I agree and won’t say anything. But why do you hate it when people say something you won’t like. I said I like your site but The Film Experience, In Contention and The Awards Circuit are far more friendly and open to constructive criticism.
    Yes, I commented because it bugged me. I don’t like the fact that you are so authoritive. After all, you need readers. And I see what your cooments are usually – either you don’t like people or you don’t like people with opinions.
    Anyway, I like most of oyur publications and the fact that you get behind women rights, black cinema etc.
    Cheers.

  48. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    “why do you hate it when people say something you won’t like.”

    I don’t hate it, Daniel. But I don’t hesitate to speak up in defense of what I think when other people i discussion are doing the same.

    I joke and play around in comments every day — even in the midst of friction.

    Just curious — do you go to The Film Experience and tell Nathaniel that you don’t like what he’s writing about?

    Try that a few times and get a half dozen other readers there to pile on. See if Nat does what you say and starts posting only the sort of things that suit you.

  49. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    This is really sweet Daniel. Proposing my problem might be that I “don’t like people.”

    You really know how to make a guy feel great. Thanks a million.

    Has anything I’ve said to anyone on this page been as bad as tagging them as a hateful misanthrope?

  50. Well, I, for one, love it when Ryan gets all authoritive and his comments usually give a bit of a tingle.

  51. Wow, you don’t come across “misanthrope” just any ol’ day. Always makes me think of Moliere (not among my fave French authors).

  52. Profile photo of Ryan Adams

    Thanks, Tony… (?)

    good gosh you guys, my list of favorite movies every year runs to more than 40 titles before I start finding films I can’t abide. If it sometimes seems like I spend a lot of time being defensive it’s only because I’m shielding a wide embrace of tender fond feelings inside that callous snipers try to piss on.

  53. Totally complimentary, Ryan. William F. Buckley would be proud of you — though not of your politics! :-)

  54. Really? On Golden Pond had SEVEN weeks at number one???

  55. I enjoy what you guys tend to be up too. This sort of clever work and reporting!
    Keep up the wonderful works guys I’ve incorporated you guys to our blogroll.

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