Weekend Box Office: Aliens, Sharks, and Nazis, Oh My!

With much of the country experiencing what could be the last heatwave of the summer, this holiday weekend might be the ideal time to go to the movies. Many will no doubt get around to seeing The Help, which debuted at number two when it opened August 10th, but has taken the top spot each weekend since, while others might be drawn into a summer’s end fright fest.

Apollo 18 probably has the best shot of this weekend’s three new releases to knock The Help out of its top spot. Labor Day weekend isn’t exactly known for producing big opening grosses, but has always been a popular time for genre fare that appeals to younger moviegoers looking for something to do on the last weekend before they return to school. That could give Apollo 18 and an edge against the competition it might not have had on an average weekend.

From Weinstein Co./Dimension Films, Apollo 18 was produced by Timur Bekmambetov and Ron Schmidt, and directed by Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego. The film is about an abandoned Apollo mission on which two astronauts were sent on a secret expedition, and answers the question of why the U.S. has never returned to the moon. In fact, filmed to look like decades-old footage from the mission, Apollo 18 is tracking well among men of all ages, and might not have to rely as much on younger audiences as its main competition, Shark Night 3D. Opening Friday, Apollo 18 is expected to score a four-day gross of $11 million to $14 million.

Shark Night is expected to pull in $8 million to $10 million this weekend, a bit shy of The Help, which is expected to draw as much as $12.5 million in its fourth weekend. Produced by Sierra/Affinity and Incentive Filmed Entertainment, Shark Night is tracking best among young females. Relativity Media has been marketing the film, which revolves around seven college friends from Tulane University who spend a weekend on Lake Pontchartrain, which just happens to be infested with salt-water sharks.

For those less impressed with killer sharks and parasitic alien life forms, Focus Features’ (NASDAQ:CMCSA) The Debt might be more to taste. Starring Helen Mirren, The Debt is an espionage thriller that takes place in two time periods: 1997 and 1966. The story begins with retired Mossad secret agents played by Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson discussing a former colleague, played by Ciarán Hinds. Through flashbacks, the film shows the trio tracking down a Nazi war criminal in East Berlin in 1966. Full of twists and turns, critics are praising the film, which could have a better-than-expected box-office bow if word-of-mouth is good. The Debt opened Wednesday to a strong $970,532, and is expected to take $11 million by the end of the weekend.

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