Dystopian romance “Divergent” dominated the box office this weekend. The latest movie based on a young adult book series launched a new franchise for Lionsgate/Summit–the sequel “Insurgent” starts production in May. “Divergent” boosted overall Top 10 grosses to $130 million, just enough for the 17th consecutive weekend to outperform the previous year. It could be a record.
And yet the rest of the uneven field saw disappointing returns, including the most recent “Muppets” movie from Disney. But despite some weakness among the rest of the studio films in the Top 10, a couple niche films — “God’s Not Dead” from a Southern Christian production company and Fox Searchlight’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel”– showed significant strength from disparate audiences.
Two films fell off the charts — “Frozen” finally hit DVD (with huge sales), and Video on Demand-available “Veronica Mars” (Warner Bros.) collapsed as it added new theaters.
1. “Divergent” (Lionsgate) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Criticwire:; Metacritic:
$56,000,000 in 3,936 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $14,228; Cumulative: $56,000,000
The now-merged Lionsgate and Summit have overseen the massive late teen and young adult “Twilight” and “Hunger Games” series, and now have found another franchise from a series of novels featuring a young female character who doesn’t fit into a future society (with Shailene Woodley in a similar Jennifer Lawrence role). Also playing largely to women thanks to Woodley –and hearthrob Theo James– the initial take is nowhere near the first series entries of those earlier films. But with an economic $85-million budget, upbeat initial audience response (A Cinemascore) and international yet to open, this is a promising start based on strong marketing. At the least, it’s more than double Summit’s last attempt at a new series — “Enders Game” — achieved. What makes the initial numbers more impressive is that these books were not as widely read.
“Divergent” comes from veteran producers (and married couple) Lucy Fisher and Doug Wick, who staged a big comeback last year with “The Great Gatsby” after an earlier series of mid-level hits including “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “Peter Pan” and “Jarhead.” Before joining together, they both had major success, Fisher as a studio head of production, Wick as a producer including the Oscar-winning “Gladiator.” They have been late to the franchise game though, with this set to be a main focus going forward (Lionsgate has announced that “Insurgent,” the sequel, will be released exactly a year from now). Director Neil Burger has tasted previous success, though at a lower level, with “The Illusionist” and “Limitless.” For up-and-comer Woodley, this verifies high expectations after “The Descendants” and last year’s “The Spectacular Now” — she’s no Lawrence, but this positions her as an alternative go-to young actress.
What comes next: This might battle “Noah” for the top spot next week if it has a strong hold, but in the meantime looks like it has a chance to reach a respectable $150 million or so domestic take, good enough to become a mid-level franchise going forward.
2. “Muppets Most Wanted” (Buena Vista) NEW – Cinemascore: B+; Criticwire:B+; Metacritic: 61
$16,514,000 in 3,194 theaters; PSA: $5,170; Cumulative: $16,514,000
A disappointing result so far, this second entry in the reboot of the “Muppets” movie franchise (#8 overall since the initial 1979 Jim Henson-directed effort) grossed only just over half of what the series reboot managed ($29 million on its way to $88 million domestic). In an extended season when “Frozen” and “The Lego Movie” were the leaders in a strong group of family-oriented films, this grossed even less than the less well known Rocky and Bullwinkle characters featured in “Mr. Peabody and Sherman,” surprising since films like this should be in Disney’s wheelhouse for easy success.
This was modestly budgeted (around $50 million), and brought back the director (James Bobin) and producers (long time Disney-associated David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman, who detoured to “The Fighter” a couple years ago). Human actors included two recent Golden Globe hosts (Tina Fey and Ricky Gervais) in hopes of adding a cutting edge for older attendees (just under half of the audience was over 25, which also suggests that kids are no longer Muppet obsessed).
What comes next: Varying dates for school spring vacations should keep this in play even if the initial take was disappointing.
3. “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” (Twentieth Century Fox) Week 3 – Last weekend #1
$11,700,000 (-46%) in 3,607 theaters (-344); PSA: $3,244; Cumulative: $81,002,000
Whatever weakness the “Muppets” sequel showed, it cut into the third go-round for DreamWorks Animation’s latest entry, which fell slightly less than half. Still, this has international heft to accompany the decent domestic showing and looks to easily top $100 million in weeks ahead.
What comes next: Most animated films come with franchise hopes. With the expense of Dreamworks’ entries (this one came in at around $140 million), that seems dicey at best.
4. “300: Rise of an Empire” (Warner Bros.) Week 3 – Last weekend #2
$8,665,000 (-55%) in 3,085 theaters (-405); PSA: $2,809; Cumulative: $93,753,000
Not holding well, this lags far behind the first “300” (which was at $161 million at the same point). The saving grace for this (and then some) is the foreign take, which combined puts this nearing $300 million so far, with more territories still to come.
What comes next: This might not be a big enough payoff though to keep the series going.
5. “God’s Not Dead” (Freestyle) NEW – no reviews or Cinemascore
$8,564,000 in 780 theaters; PSA: $10,979; Cumulative: $8,564,000
The year’s most off-the-radar independent film (though this opened in New York and Los Angeles, it wasn’t screened and wasn’t even announced to local papers) is the latest example of the potential riches in catering to faith-based Middle America. Suggesting that Christians are victims in today’s America, this story about a college student refusing his professor’s demands that he renounce his faith in order to pass played in relatively few theaters. But with the clear benefit of strong grassroots marketing and catching a wave of resentment it earned an impressive response. And adding to the good news is the Saturday uptick from Friday, suggesting this wasn’t a front-loaded group-sale first-day event.
This isn’t quite the best figure from the genre — “Courageous,” distributed by Sony in 2011 opened to $9.1 million, though in more (1,161) theaters, making this, particularly with its non-studio backing, more impressive. The was an La (Louisiana) not LA production all the way (from Pure Flix films, but including some Hollywood veterans among its producing/writing team). The names in the supporting cast include one-time TV stars Dean Cain and Kevin Sorbo, but Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson in a cameo clearly didn’t hurt. The hands-on distributor is Freestyle, which handles releases for indie producers not as acquisitions as a service company (“The Illusionist” their biggest success).
What comes next: This clearly lends itself to expansion and a significantly higher gross, even with the big budget “Noah” looming this week.
6. “Need for Speed” (Buena Vista) Week 2 – Last weekend #3
$7,781,000 (-56%) in 3,115 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $2,498; Cumulative: $30,404,000
Forget the weak numbers here for this DreamWorks film. This has already amassed over $100 million foreign, particularly surprising since first-time big budget film leading man Aaron Paul has little awareness overseas. The domestic take might end up recouping marketing costs, but with foreign this looks to become a much-needed hit for DreamWorks.
What comes next: The total numbers might be good enough to make the studio consider series prospects for this, a la the similar “Fast and Furious” franchise.
7. “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (Fox Searchlight) Week 3 – Last weekend #8
$6,750,000 (+86%) in 304 theaters (+238); PSA: $22,204; Cumulative: $12,961,000
The successful expansion for Wes Anderson’s Central European adventure tale continues to astound and outpace similar initial strong openers. Some comparisons — his “Moonrise Kingdom” hit 395 theaters in its fifth weekend to gross $2.4 million (and ended up at $45 million). “The Descendants” in its third weekend (Thanksgiving no less) at 390 theaters had a PSA of under $19,000 (with more theaters, it grossed $7.3 million). “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” at the same point grossed $3.2 million in 354; “12 Years a Slave” in 410 theaters grossed $4.8 million.
All this suggests that “Budapest” should achieve an easy $50 million + domestic gross, with no signs yet that it is a niche film with crossover limitations, and raises Anderson to the level of Alexander Payne and the Coen Brothers as an auteur who has become significantly commercial as well. And significantly, all of this comes outside the awards-season timing that normally is a big part of the marketing machine (and expense) that boosts grosses.
What comes next: This will continue to expand, with Fox Searchlight now safe in upping the advertising to reach a wider audience. This still has its limits (no one should yet anticipate a $100 million domestic haul), but combined with initial international results ($20 million early on) make this clearly Anderson’s biggest hit yet.
8. “Non-Stop” (Universal) Week 4 – Last weekend #4
$6,300,000 (-40%) in 2,945 theaters (-238); PSA: $2,945; Cumulative: $78,600,000
Still holding OK, although again short of “Taken,” its prototype (which was at $95 million at the same point). International (not handled by Universal) is at about the same level so far though, making this $50 million production a success for all involved.
What comes next: Likely not enough to duplicate “Taken”‘s successful series attempts.
9. “The Lego Movie” (Warner Bros.) Week 7 – Last weekend #6
$4,115,000 (-47%) in 2,501 theaters (-539); PSA: $1,645; Cumulative: $243,352,000
Though it is holding like “Frozen,” this is otherwise still a long-term family audience performer as it hangs on for another week. With international figures bringing the total around $400 million so far, this $60 million production marks a great start for their new franchise.
What comes next: This looks to fall just short of “Gravity”‘s domestic take – but like that film, this performed much better than Warners’ expected.
10. “Tyler Perry’s The Single Mom’s Club” (Lionsgate) Week 2 – Last weekend #5
$3,100,000 (-62%) in 1,896 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $1,896; Cumulative: $12,910,000
Ouch. First the weakest opening ever for a Tyler Perry film, now this big falloff. The A Cinemascore clearly didn’t come through in terms of word of mouth.
What comes next: Maybe next time Perry’s name won’t be part of the title.