Director Lee Daniels’ story of the White House butler who served under eight presidents has topped the US box office.

First off, Cecil Gaines — played in the film by Forest Whitaker — actually existed. Well, sort of. Lee Daniels’ The Butler is based on the life of Eugene Allen, who did in fact work his way up to White House maitre d’ from starting out washing dishes, serving eight presidents from Truman to Reagan and eventually retiring in 1986. Gaines’ story isn’t quite the same, but it’s close.

And it’s an inspiring enough story that, as Daniels’ follow-up to the smash success of 2009’s Precious, The Butler has topped the US box office in its first week of release, beating out a few high-profile contenders.

Mr. Whitaker looks pleased.

Mr. Whitaker looks pleased.

Here’s the full breakdown:

Weekend Box Office: Aug. 16-18, 2013

  1. Lee Daniels’ The Butler $24.6 million
  2. We’re the Millers $18 million
  3. Elysium $13.7 million
  4. Planes $13.4 million
  5. Kick-Ass 2 $13.3 million

The ‘O’ Factor

Of course, it has to be mentioned that part of the pull of The Butler is the fact that the part of Gloria Gaines, Cecil’s wife, is played by Oprah Winfrey. The Butler marks Oprah’s first substantial not-playing-herself dramatic role since she was in Beloved in 1998, though of course she’ll always be remembered as well for her portrayal of Sofia in 1985’s The Color Purple.

the butler oprah

And the award for Highest-Profile Supporting Actress goes to…

Given Oprah’s involvement and Daniels’ success last time around, it’s not a huge shocker that The Butler would find an audience at the box office, but it’s still an impressive run to top expected blockbusters like Planes and Elysium.

The latter, which was last week’s number one, dipped to third behind We’re the Millers, which held steady in the number two spot, while high-school superhero sequel Kick-Ass 2 entered fifth in its first week, taking in $13.3 million.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler official trailer