Sorry, I couldn’t not use the image above, since it graphically demonstrates what happens when the studios release a trio of unexciting-to-detested entries into a Labor Day market full of strong, and strongly violent, competition. It starts with this week’s b.o. winner. It might not be anything resembling a critical darling, but “The Final Destination” boasts the power of gimmicky horror added to the additional gimmick of 3-D, offering some pretty easy to sell ghoulish fun to audiences, who bought it to tune of an estimated $15.4 million over the long weekend.

Brad Pitt contemplates his masterpiece.And this year’s cinephile sensation is also a hit with audiences. “Inglourious Basterds” held beautifully in its third weekend and only came in a few points below its “Final” competition with an estimated $15.1 million. Word of mouth, or tweet, or whatever is obviously working in the long-awaited WWII-flick’s favor — as may be the fact that every film geek in the world is probably going to see it at least twice, if not thrice.

Variety‘s Pamela McClintock also reports that “Basterds” actually won the day on Sunday. She also mentions that with a domestic “cume” of $95.2 million, the wartime fantasia is now Tarantino’s second biggest earner after “Pulp Fiction,” which made just below $108 million back in 1994. Adjusted for inflation, that number may still be hard — though not impossible — to beat. Not adjusted for inflation is looking easier all the time to me. When you consider the near absolute certainty of at least two or three Oscar nominations (quite possibly several more at this point), I’m not sure when this thing stops earning signficant money. Also, THR reports “Basterds” topping the international charts in a slow overseas weekend.

Finally, we get to a new release in the #3 spot with “All About Steve.” The critically reviled rom-com has improved its reviews somewhat since my pre-weekend b.o. report. Starting at 00%, there was nowhere to go but up and it now rests at 05% on the Tomatometer. That means four critics out of 77 have had something kind to say about what I’m suspecting is probably the year’s worst reviewed major motion-picture, which this particular year is really saying something. However, we know that reviews don’t mean anything to a large segment of filmgoers who, at least before they hear from friends and family, make movie going decisions based on stars, genres, ratings, and whether they “get” the story concept.

All of the above added up to the fact that, if I’d been writing this yesterday, I would reported the Sandra Bullock vehicle as the #2 film. However, the brilliant Sunday of “Basterds” and, no doubt, some negative word-of-mouth-related slippage as filmgoers perhaps found they had more in common with critics than they realized, meant that “Steve” only managed a still surprisingly strong $13.9 million. That’s largely based, I’m sure, on Sandra Bullock‘s star power. I think the real secret here, however, is more about counterprogramming. With four violent, R-rated films on the top of the charts the last few weeks, adult women seeking gentler fare who’ve already seen the very profitable “Julie and Julia” don’t have many options they’re likely to consider. Hopefully some of them will enter a movie theater again someday.

And what of the two other new releases? Well, “Gamer,” which in a lesser market might well have gained the top spot despite not being prescreened for reviews, came in #4 with $11.2 million, which might be seen as a small blow to whoever imagines Gerard Butler achieving Arnold/Mel-like fame. Like everyone else, I assumed this would probably come in at #2 or possibly even win the weekend. Bad habit, I guess.

Jason Bateman and the great J.K. Simmons in "Extract"Mike Judge’s “Extract,” which was in fewer theaters than the others, didn’t do a whole lot better than the famously low theatrical opening weekend take of his home video sensation, “Office Space.” Even with a name actor and a lot more publicity this time around, it only made an estimated $5.3 million over the four day “sesh,” coming in at the #10 spot.

Meanwhile, over at the newly redesigned Deadline Hollywood, Ms. Nikki Finke‘s chart reminds us that the star-free, politically charged science fiction action pic, “District 9,” now in its fourth week, is holding strong at $9 million in its fourth weekend in the #5 spot, $2 million ahead of the sinking “Halloween 2,” which I understand may be significantly harshing The Weinstein Company’s “Inglourious” mellow. Sticking with the good news for Sony, the South Africa-based “District 9” also broke the $100 million mark with a cumulative $103. Between this and the largely subtitled, four-language “Inglourious Basterds,” U.S. film audiences are starting to look less provincial.

District 9