LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Horror movie "The Possession" held its grip on the box office for a second week, but North American ticket sales slumped in the worst movie-going weekend for at least four years.
With only a handful of new releases to tempt movie fans, "The Possession" pulled in just $9.5 million in the United States and Canada. The top 12 films grossed an estimated $52 million in total - a 40 percent drop from last week and about 20 percent down on the same weekend in 2011.
Early September is historically sluggish at the U.S. and Canadian box offices. After blockbuster releases over the summer, studios reserve their big films for the November and December holidays.
But revenues for the three-day movie-going weekend were particularly low, with the total gross for all films expected to be about $67 million. The post-U.S. Labor Day weekend in 2008 pulled in $68 million.
"It is pretty scary when the top movie comes in at only $9.5 million," said Paul Dergarabedian, box office analyst at Hollywood.com.
"This is one of the worst-grossing weekends of the last 10 years. In the summer, single movies had opening weekends bigger than this entire weekend gross," he added.
However, Dergarabedian said hope was on the way next week with the next installment of the "Resident Evil" horror franchise and the re-release of Disney/Pixar's 2003 family film "Finding Nemo," this time in 3D.
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Among the few notable spots was the anti-President Barack Obama documentary "2016: Obama's America." It boosted its cumulative total to more than $26 million to become the second-biggest political documentary since liberal filmmaker Michael Moore's 2004 anti-war indictment, "Fahrenheit 9/11."
New thriller "The Cold Light of Day" flopped with just $1.8 million. Lions Gate spokesman Paul Pflug, whose studio released the movie along with "The Possession" and "The Expendables 2," said the studio "went into the weekend with modest expectations."
"The Cold Light of Day," stars Henry Cavill, Bruce Willis and Sigourney Weaver in a story about a Wall Street trader whose family is kidnapped during a sailing trip in Spain.
It cost $20 million to produce. Distributor Summit Entertainment, a division of Lions Gate, reduced its risk through a co-financing arrangement with Intrepid Pictures, pre-sales of foreign rights and a production tax credit in Spain.
"The Possession," about a young woman possessed by a demon and starring Kyra Sedgwick, out-sold Prohibition-era crime drama "Lawless," which took in $6 million.
The only new movie to make the top 10 was romantic thriller "The Words," which earned $5 million. It stars Bradley Cooper and Zoe Saldana in the story of a writer who finds a manuscript in a 1940s briefcase and considers passing it off as his own. The film was produced for $6 million and acquired by CBS Films, a unit of CBS Corp, for $2 million.
Rounding out the top five, action movie sequel "Expendables 2" grossed $4.7 million domestically. Another action sequel, "The Bourne Legacy," rung up $4.0 million.
Lions Gate Entertainment released "The Possession" and "Expendables 2." "The Words" was distributed by CBS Films, a unit of CBS Corp. The privately held Weinstein Co released "Lawless." "Bourne Legacy" was distributed by Universal Pictures, a unit of Comcast Corp.
(Reporting By Lisa Richwine and Jill Serjeant; Editing by Eric Beech)