Domestic box office took a battering from Hurricane Irene as audiences on the storm-lashed East Coast hunkered down, allowing The Help to consolidate its grip and surge towards $100m as reports claimed box office dropped by more than 23% compared to the same session in 2010.

The Civil Rights Era drama, released as all DreamWorks films are through Disney, has garnered early awards season consideration and added an estimated $14.3m to reach $96.6m after three weekends.

The weekend’s top debut was the action film Colombiana starring Zoe Saldana. It was acquired by Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions and opened through TriStar on second place on $10.3m.

FilmDistrict’s third release, the horror story Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark, launched in third on $8.7m. “All things considered, not a bad Saturday and ultimately the weekend total was good despite the hurricane,” president of theatrical distribution Bob Berney said. “Our key large urban East Coast markets were really killed and many theatres closed or were dead even if they remained open.

“For example, I went to Ridge Hill in Westchester County, NY, for the 7:30 shows and even though it was open, there were only about 25 brave people in the entire complex. The E-Walk on 42nd St in Manhattan gross was $20,800 on Friday and $0 on Saturday.”

Fox’s Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes stands at $148.5m after four weekends and ranked fourth, one place above The Weinstein Company’s new arrival Our Idiot Brother, which grossed $6.6m.

Paul Rudd stars in the Sundance comedy, which the Weinsteins acquired back in January for North America, the UK, Germany, France and Japan under its original title My Idiot Brother. At the time the company announced  it would partner on distribution with Ron Burkle, the very man who backed Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s ultimately unsuccessful bid to buy back Miramax.

Lionsgate’s Conan The Barbarian fell four places to eighth and stands at an underwhelming $16.6m after two weekends. TWC/Dimension Films’ Spy Kids: All The Time In The World fell three to sixth and stands at $21.7m after the same amount of time. Focus Features’ One Day fell from ninth to 13th and added $2.4m in the second weekend for $9.6m

Next weekend’s wide releases are TWC/Dimension Films’ found footage horror story Apollo 18; Relativity’s Shark Night 3D; and Focus Features Toronto 2010 entry The Debt, starring Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Jessica Chastain.

Estimated Top 10 North America Aug 26-28, 2011

Film (Dist) / Est wkd gross / Est total to date

1 (1) The Help (Disney/DreamWorks) WDSMPI $14.3m $96.6m

2 (-) Colombiana (TriStar) EuropaCorp $10.3m –

3 (-) Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark (FilmDistrict) Pathe International $8.7m –

4 (2) Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (Fox) Fox Int’l $8.7m $148.5m

5 (-) Our Idiot Brother (TWC) UTA/TWC $6.6m –

6 (3) Spy Kids: All The Time In The World (TWC/Dimension) TWC $5.7m $21.7m

7 (5) The Smurfs (Sony) SPRI $4.8m $125.9m

8 (4) Conan The Barbarian (Lionsgate) Nu Image $3.1m $16.6m

9 (6) Fright Night (Disney/DreamWorks) WDSMPI $3m $14.2m

10 (10) Crazy, Stupid, Love. (Warner Bros) WBPI $2.9m $69.5m