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Top Ten Box Office Takeaways: M. Night Shyamalan Returns with ‘Split’

Adding to luster to their brands this weekend are M. Night Shyamalan, James McAvoy, Michael Keaton and global movie star Vin Diesel.

“Split”

Horror master M. Night Shyamalan (“The Visit”) scored his second straight success with producer Jason Blum on the weekend’s top-grosser, “Split.”

That’s a marked improvement over recent weeks as the weekend total upticked ahead of 2016 for the first time since before Christmas. The lesson is always the same: audiences like it when they get something completely different.

The Top Ten

1. Split (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic: 64; Est. budget: $9 million

$40,190,000 in 3,038 theaters; PTA (per theater average): $13,229; Cumulative: $40,190,000

2. xXx: The Return of Xander Cage (Paramount) NEW – Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic: 42; Est. budget: $85 million

$20,000,000 in 3,561 theaters; PTA: $5,478; Cumulative: $20,000,000

3. Hidden Figures (20th Century Fox) Week 5 – Last weekend #1

$16,250,000 (-22%) in 3,416 theaters (+130); PTA: $4,757; Cumulative: $84,249,000

4. Sing (Universal) Week 5 – Last weekend #3

$9,037,000 (-36%) in 3,193 theaters (-500); PTA: $2,830; Cumulative: $249,362,000

5. La La Land (Lionsgate) Week 7 – Last weekend #2

$8,350,000 (-42%) in 1,865 theaters (+17); PTA: $4,477; Cumulative: $89,680,000

6. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Disney)  Week 6 – Last weekend #5

$7,036,000 (-48%) in 2,653 theaters (-559); PTA: $2,703; Cumulative: $512,202,000

7. Monster Trucks (Paramount) Week 2 – Last weekend #7

$7,000,000 (-36%) in 3,119 theaters (no change); PTA: $2,244; Cumulative: $22,612,000

8. Patriots Day (Lionsgate) Week 5 – Last weekend #8

$6,000,000 (-48%) in 3,120 theaters (no change); PTA: $1,923; Cumulative: $23,640,000

9. The Founder (Weinstein) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Metacritic: 67 est. budget: $7 million

$3,758,000 in 1,115 theaters; PTA: $3,370; Cumulative: $3,759,000

10. Sleepless (Open Road) Week 2 – Last weekend #8

$3,706,000 (-56%) in 1,803 theaters (no change); PTA: $2,056; Cumulative: $15,193,000

the founder

“The Founder”

The Takeaways

What a Difference a Week Makes

Its peculiarities set it apart from the rest of the release schedule, but M. Night Shyamalan’s low-budget horror thriller “Split” does show that there is still a path with core genre films to appeal to a wide audience. It offered something that seemed different than usual, boasted a director who has delivered over a long period (with ups and downs, but most recently up with “The Visit.”) And it delivered close to double what was predicted.

The result is a Top Ten that came in around $121 million. After about three weeks of early 2017 blues, that’s 27 per cent up from the same weekend last year. It wasn’t hard to top, as last year’s three releases hovered just over $10 million. Also opening with “Split” was another better-than-average entry — the new “xXx” franchise film, with the return of Vin Diesel to the lead role. Domestically its opening was ordinary at best, but contributed to the overall box office rise.

We now head into two weeks with likely lower results (leaving room for Oscar nomination expansions next weekend) with the Super Bowl weekend always making studios hold back on their best stuff). Last February saw “Deadpool” break out, so it will be tough to replicate.

Reaching the Top Ten, in something of a surprise, was Weinstein’s “The Founder,” starring a well-reviewed Michael Keaton. Unlike “Lion” (which will add runs this Friday to supplement its strong 575 theaters), its future is independent of  Tuesday’s Oscar nominations.  Its 56 per cent jump Saturday was by far the best of the three new openers, showing initial adult appeal.

“Split” vs. “The Martian”

Assuming the estimate holds up, Shyamalan’s film is the first original live action film (no franchise or remake connections) to gross over $40 million for a weekend since “The Martian” 15 months ago.

That’s a stunning statement and attests to how derivative nearly all studio production these days. In the right hands (credit producer Jason Blum), originality can still matter. And the “Split” opening is in some ways a more impressive accomplishment than “The Martian,” as Matt Damon is a far bigger marquee draw than James McAvoy: this is his biggest opening to date away from “X-Men.” And it hit its mark.

Fifty-two percent per cent of the audience was under 25, an extraordinary number these days for a non-family film. The lower than standard, marketing, as Blumhouse films always do, targeted a younger crowd with effective social media.

“Split” also boasted a 12 per cent Saturday increase (rare for a horror film) from an opening Thursday/Friday gross. That’s partly because its initial audience was slightly more female than male (women drive Saturday numbers typically more than Friday).

All that suggests a film that has a strong chance of holding as #1 at least one more week and possibly more and reach a gross over $100 million with much more foreign. More importantly, it suggests that creativity can pay off.

“xXx: The Return of Xander Cage”

Paramount

Vin Diesel Carries Global Returns for “xXx: The Return of Xander Cage”

Twelve years after the original, “Xander” grossed just over $50 million in foreign territories this weekend; it has opened in 54 per cent of the world so far (China is the biggest country to come). With its domestic total likely to struggle to pass $50 million, the rest of the world will have to make the third installment a hit — returning Vin Diesel to the role after he skipped the second.

Don’t be surprised if the sequel grosses $250 million outside the U.S. That would be over 80 per cent of its total. And if so, for one more time, Vin Diesel will prove himself perhaps the biggest draw in the world among American movie stars.

That he isn’t as big at home is directly related to an accelerating drop in attendance among a wide swath of male 15-35 moviegoers. Its audience was only 53 per cent male and only 38 per cent under 25. That’s weak for the profile of this film.

But it doesn’t matter since it clicked elsewhere. $20 million is hardly a disaster — it added to the overall take for the weekend, and that number for a #2 film for a weekend in January is strong. But its success will lead to more sequels likely and more films aimed at the international appeal for this as part of studio’s overall slates.

“Hidden Figures”

The Calm Before the Oscar Storm

Next weekend will see the widest break for “La La Land” and could boost “Hidden Figures” more (the latter is not as certain a nominee as Lionsgate’s nominee, but is coming on strong). And several other films, mostly specialized, should see expansions, with some boosted into the Top Ten (Weinstein’s thriving “Lion” leads the way).

The drop of only 22 per cent for “Figures” off a strong holiday weekend is a continued sign that this has become a wide, breakout crossover success that could come close to doubling its current $84 million total and give it momentum in the Oscar race.

At the very least, it stands to rise above all other studio Christmas releases other than “Rogue One” and surpass nearly all films centered on African-American characters (of recent note,  with “Straight Outta Compton” the best at $161 million).  And its zeitgeist appropriateness — celebrating not only that aspect of their story, but also the female aspect as well as celebrating knowledge and science — might make it unexpectedly the most timely film out at the moment despite its half-century distant story.

“La La Land” took an unexpected bigger drop this weekend — 42 per cent — halting its weekly gross improvement. That’s a factor in Lionsgate’s smart decision to push the film aggressively before the nominations. They plan to have it go to its widest level this Friday after its certain nomination-leading total. It’s just below $90 million so far. That places it $21 million ahead of “Silver Linings Playbook” on the same date. And that total had been achieved without the nominations. So there’s nothing wrong with the number. But the fall-off is the first sign of possible limits to its appeal, and makes the boost of the nominations and new marketing crucial to its chances of reaching its full potential (which could easily be $160-200 million; “Playbook” reached $132 million.)

Holdovers

The two best other holdovers were “Sing” and “Monster Trucks,” both down 36 per cent. Universal’s musical is getting attention for having the highest gross of any film never to reach #1. That’s true if one ignores the fact that “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” ($241 million) at today’s ticket prices would have reached $352 million, which “Sing” will not make. Nevertheless, it has done very well and continues to thrive. It is also extending its lead over the earlier released and Disney “Moana,” which comes as a bit of a surprise.

“Monster Trucks” came off a weekend barely over $10 million does nothing to stanch the red ink already written off for the film. It does reveal that the problem was more marketing than concept and execution. That’s small solace.

Among the others, the biggest hurt is for “Patriots Day.” It dropped 48 per cent from its disappointing start, with this weekend make or break for it having any chance to recover from its weak launch. Figure it will struggle to hit $40 million domestic, with marginal foreign prospects.

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