‘Contagion’ tops the box office

'Contagion' tops the box office

The thriller starring Matt Damon knocks “The Help” out of first place for the first time in three weeks.

“Contagion” infected enough moviegoers to catch the top spot at the box office. The Warner Bros. pandemic thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring an A-list cast that includes Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow coughed up $23.1 million in its first weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday.

The film’s contagious opening marked the beginning of the fall movie season by exceeding the studio’s estimates. “I think Steven Soderbergh made a compelling movie that tapped into that fear that many of us have about illnesses, viruses and pandemics,” said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros. general sales manager. “It’s like a train or car accident. You can’t look away. You prefer not to think about it, but when it’s presented to you, you want to learn more.”

Despite the breakout success of “Contagion,” it was the lowest grossing weekend of the year so far for the film industry, according to Paul Dergarabedian, box-office analyst for Hollywood.com. Dergarabedian said that’s typical for the weekend after Labor Day and expected business to pick up in the coming weeks as the Academy Awards race begins.

“There are some great titles that are on the way,” said Dergarabedian. “I see several promising films — Oscar contenders like “50/5/” ‘The Descendants’ and ‘Ides of March,’ and even potential big moneymakers like “Real Steel”

“The Help” the acclaimed DreamWorks Pictures drama distributed by Disney about black Southern maids speaking out during the civil-rights movement, slipped to No. 2 with $8.7 million after three straight weeks at the top, bringing its domestic total to $137 million.

“Warrior,” the Lionsgate mixed-martial arts drama starring Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton, punched up a $5.6 million debut in the No. 3 position. David Spitz, head of distribution for Lionsgate, said he expects <“Warrior” to mirror the simmering success of “The Help.”

“The film has gotten unbelievable reviews,” said Spitz. “The audience reaction we’re getting on the movie is consistent. People like the film. It’s a slow burn. We think we’re going to be in theaters for a long time.”

Contagion: The Epidemic of Fear

Contagion: The Epidemic of Fear

Nothing spreads like fear.

Contagion follows the rapid progress of a lethal airborne virus that kills within days. As the fast-moving epidemic grows, the worldwide medical community races to find a cure and control the panic that spreads faster than the virus itself. At the same time, ordinary people struggle to survive in a society coming apart.

Contagion is directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by Scott Z. Burns. The project was announced in February 2010 with the news that Matt Damon and Jude Law were cast in Contagion in their first collaboration since The Talented Mr. Ripley in 1999. Kate Winslet and Marion Cotillard joined the cast later in the month. Sodebergh received cooperation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and also worked with a group of scientific advisers for the film.

While the international medical community searches for a cure, confrontational freelance journalist Alan Krumwiede pursues an agenda of his own. Combining a genuine reporter’s instinct with a pathological distrust of all things official and a flair for the dramatic, he commits his popular blog to exposing the truth about the growing epidemic…as he sees it.

“His demand for the truth could be seen as heroic,” says Jude Law, starring as the man who claims—among other things—that there are more deaths than are being reported, and possibly an alternative cure being suppressed. “He believes people have a right to know and that information should be shared, especially when it’s something on this scale, and he was the first to break the story of a man dying on a Tokyo bus, who turned out to be one of the virus’ first victims. He has the courage of his convictions but his pride and ego often get in the way. He casts too broad a net for his stories and doesn’t always care about the repercussions of what he puts out there.”

Contagion: The Epidemic of Fear

“Krumwiede is not always wrong,” Soderbergh points out. But neither is he always right. And what he broadcasts takes on a life of its own as people desperate for answers turn to his blog. As the disease continues to proliferate, so does his subscriber base, from modest beginnings to 2 million, then 12 million people. “There are always conspiracy theories that percolate around significant events,” says Burns. “And just as a virus begins with one person and spreads, Krumwiede becomes the ‘index patient’ for what becomes a parallel epidemic of fear and panic.”

In developing the complex and undeniably charismatic character, Soderbergh recounts, “Jude and I talked about bloggers who take an anti-government, conspiracy theory approach—what they sound like, what they look like, and how they behave. We definitely wanted him to have a messianic streak.”

“What’s interesting is that you’re not really sure about him,” says Jacobs. “Is the government really hiding something and does the herbal remedy he’s talking about really work? I think we all suspect at one time or another that we’re not getting the whole truth, and in that sense Krumwiede represents the audience’s point of view.” “But,” Law confirms, “ultimately, he crosses the line.”

Representing one of Krumwiede’s prime targets is Elliott Gould, re-teaming with Soderbergh and his three-time “Ocean’s” co-star Matt Damon, as Dr. Ian Sussman, a San Francisco-based medical researcher working independently on a possible vaccine—against CDC orders. Monique Gabriela Curnen (“The Dark Knight”) also appears as a newspaper editor, Lorraine Vasquez, who dismisses Krumwiede’s bid for an exclusive just before the contagion breaks.

Contagion

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, Jennifer Ehle, Anna Jacoby-Heron, Josie Ho, Sanaa Lathan
Screenplay by: Scott Z. Burns
Production Design by: Howard Cummings
Cinematography by: Steven Soderbergh
Film Editing by: Stephen Mirrione
Costume Design by: Louise Frogley
Set Decoration by: Cindy Carr
Art Direction by: Abdellah Baadil, Simon Dobbin, David Lazan
Music by: Cliff Martinez
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing content and some language.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Release Date: September 9, 2011

Related Link: View Full Production Notes for Contagion Movie