Brits’ One Direction Battles The Butler for Labor Day Crown

The boy band and the White House butler hold off a surge from Mexican comedian Eugenio Derbez

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Gilbert Carrasquillo / FilmMagic via Getty Images

(L-R) Zayn Malik, Niall Horan, Louis Tomlinson, Liam Payne and Harry Styles of One Direction perform on NBC's "Today" at Rockefeller Plaza on Aug. 23, 2013 in New York, New York

In a genial replay of the War of 1812, a Brit boy band assaulted the White House. One Direction: This Is Us, a 3D portrait of the Anglo-Irish quintet assembled by Simon Cowell for The X Factor TV show, challenged Lee Daniels’ The Butler, the bio-pic of a White House servant, for the Labor Day bragging rights.

As of Sunday morning, This Is Us was predicted to earn $17 million for Friday to Sunday (including Thursday evening previews), $21 million for the four-day weekend in North American theaters. But The Butler, now at $14.7 million for the first three days, is surging as This Is Us wanes. It could end up in first place and extend its box-office winning streak to three weekends by the time the final Friday-to-Monday results are announced on Tuesday.

[UPDATE: In the Fri.-Sun. period, One Direction: This Is Us actually took in $15.8 million (or 7% below its predicted gross) and Lee Daniels’ The Butler $14.9 million (1% higher). The Butler won the long weekend, including Labor Day, $20.2 million to $18.5 million. So both films can call themselves No. 1, with an asterisk. The Spanish-language comedy Instructions Not Included finished the four days with a very impressive $10.4 million.] 

(SEE: TIME’s photo essay on Eugene Allen, the Man Behind The Butler)

Labor Day weekend is usually dumpster time for the studios, with serious cinephiles flocking to the film festivals in Venice (ciao from the Lido) and Telluride, and parents and kids in back-to-school mode. But girls always wanna have fun, and This Is Us was for them. The concert film, directed by gonzo-doc personality Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me), was released by Sony, which distributes the band’s albums and The X Factor. Spurlock also shot the picture using a new Sony camera. Now that’s called synergy.

The three-day total would rank This Is Us below the first weekends of three other concert films — the 2008 Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour ($31.1 million), the 2011 Justin Bieber: Never Say Never ($29.5 million) and the 2009 Michael Jackson: This Is It ($23.2 million)— but well above the 2009 Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience ($12.2 million) and last year’s Katy Perry: Part of Me ($7.1 million). The movie found its target market: a lopsided 87% female, and 65% under the age of 17. And the young ladies gave thanks with a sterling “A” rating in the CinemaScore poll of early attendees. This Is Us also racked up a tuneful $14.5 million abroad.

(READ: Melissa Locker on the One Direction phenomenon)

The big winner, at least in dollars per theater, might be the Mexican comedian Eugenio Derbez, whose No se Aceptan Devoluciones (Instructions Not Included) looks to register the all-time top U.S. opening for a Spanish-language movie: $7.5 million for Friday through Sunday, and $9.3 million projected for the four days, in just 347 theaters, for an astounding 21,614 per-screen average. It aced a CinemaScore of A-plus, which has gone to the very rare blockbuster (The Avengers), animated feature (Tangled) or uplifting weepie (The Help, Dolphin Tale, Courageous).

Derbez is fleetingly known to mainstream U.S. audiences as a supporting player on Rob Schneider’s short-lived CBS sitcom ¡Rob! and in Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill. But the million of Spanish-speaking Americans who watch Derbez’s shows on Univisión also go to the movies, especially a “heart” comedy about a man and his six-year-old daughter getting an unwelcome visit from the girl’s birth mother. Director-producer-cowriter-star Derbez, who turns 52 Monday, should have a happy, wealthy birthday.

The two other films that opened probably wished they hadn’t. Getaway, which traps Ethan Hawke and Selena Gomez in a car whose movements are controlled by evil voice Jon Voight, pulled a piddling $4.5 million at 2,130 venues. And Closed Circuit, a techno-thriller starring Eric Bana and Rebecca Hall, managed just $2.5 million for the weekend and $3.1 million since Wednesday at 870 theaters.

Here are the early estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures (Friday to Sunday only) in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:

1. One Direction: This Is Us, $17 million, first weekend
2. Lee Daniels’ The Butler, $14.7 million; $74 million, third week
3. We’re the Millers, $12.6 million; $109.6 million, fourth week
4. Planes, $7.8 million; $70.9 million, fourth week
5. Instructions Not Included, $7.5 million, first weekend
6. Elysium, $6.3 million; $78.4 million, fourth week
7. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, $5.2 million; $22.7 million, second week
8. The Word’s End, $4.8 million; $16.6 million, second week
9. Getaway, $4.5 million, first weekend
10. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, $4.4 million; $55 million, fourth week