This Easter weekend three religious-themed films made the Top 10, led by new opener “Heaven Is for Real” (Sony) which barely missed taking the #2 spot despite playing in more than 1,000 fewer screens than the box office leaders. This unheralded low-budget effort reinforces the most significant trend of 2014 so far: faith-based films nabbing substantial audiences (even “Noah” got a piece of this action).
For the third week running, the top film is “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (Marvel/Buena Vista), which looks to be among the year’s very best grossers, particularly worldwide. But with three other openers falling below expectations, particularly Warner Bros.’ “Transcendence,” once expected to be a top spring hit, the overall weekend total is disappointing. The $118 million total marks an uptick from the same calendar weekend last year, but falls $20 million below last year’s earlier Easter.
Way over expectations is the year’s penultimate specialized opener, “Fading Gigolo” (Millennium), which came in around $200,000 in five theaters. Despite a mixed critical response, this sexy John Turturro-directed comedy, with a lead performance from Woody Allen, is the specialized surprise of the year. More on this and other specialized films in Arthouse Audit.
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1. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (Buena Vista) Week 3 – Last weekend #1
$26,612,000 (-36%) in 3,825 theaters (-113); PSA (per screen average): $6,957; Cumulative: $201,526,000
The great news for Marvel keeps rolling along. With its third weekend at #1, this latest “Captain America” effort now has a domestic total far surpassing the previous effort, and also is only $5 million short of the producer’s most recent film, “Thor: The Dark World.” Even better, worldwide, its take is now approaching $600 million, while the first one didn’t hit $400. And it opened in early April, usually not a date associated with this stratospheric level of performance.
What comes next: Marvel has become a money-printing machine for all involved, and this success just adds to the legend.
2. “Rio 2” (20th Century Fox) Week 2 – Last weekend #2
$22,500,000 (-43%) in 3,975 theaters (+27); PSA: $5,660; Cumulative: $75,383,000
The gross by itself is decent enough, but the drop for a holiday weekend with a Friday school holiday is more worrisome. The first “Rio” had amassed $81 million through 10 days by comparison, meaning that this will likely fall short of the $143 million domestic take of the previous film. International fortunately is far better so far ($124 million before this weekend), so with a reasonable (about $100 million) budget, this should still turn out OK or above.
What comes next: With the foreign haul, this should do enough to keep the series going.
3. “Heaven Is for Real” (Sony) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 47
$21,500,000 in 2,417 theaters; PSA: $8,895; Cumulative: $28,500,000
The most impressive (by far) of the week’s new films, more so with it mid-level theater count, this latest faith-based success confirms what recent hits “Son of God” and “God’s Not Dead” have already showed this year (with “Noah” actually grossing more) — there is gold in God these days. Based on a best-selling book, this adaptation – coproduced by long-time industry vet Joe Roth (“Alice in Wonderland” and “Oz: The Great and Powerful”) and evangelist/author T.J. Jakes, and directed by “Braveheart” scripter Randall Wallace, opened on Wednesday, and with strong word of mouth propelled itself to a much better than expected showing.
Like “God’s Not Dead,” its strongly declarative title suggests it is playing to the committed who are looking for affirmation. With marketing targeted to the faithful, the gross also suggests an initial wider appeal and the chance, with strong word of mouth, to tap into a wider audience building on this strong opening.
This is a low budget film (around $12 million for production) for Sony’s Screen Gems and TriStar arms, but more studio-created than some of the earlier more indie/grassroots initiated Christian projects. Randall Wallace has directed mid-level hits before (most recently “Secretariat”) and stars Greg Kinnear and Thomas Haden Church, though not A-list, add credibility as well. This opening, curiously, is below the first weekend for “Son of God” ($25.6 million, although the five-day is bigger). But it is far ahead of Sony’s last genre effort “Courageous,” which started with $9 million on its way to $34 million total.
What comes next: Expect this to get to above $75 million with a strong multiple ahead, which will make it one of the top returns on investment for the year before whatever foreign appeal this can add.
4. “Transcendence” (Warner Bros.) NEW – Cinemascore: C+; Criticwire: C-; Metacritic: 44
$11,150,000 in 3,455 theaters; PSA: $3,227; Cumulative: $11,150,000
A just plain awful domestic opening for this $100 million production, the directorial debut for long-time Chistopher Nolan cinematographer Wally Pfister. Starring Johnny Depp, whose expensive flop “The Lone Ranger” still grossed nearly $250 million worldwide, this artificial intelligence thriller managed to open to less than last week’s no-star no-budget horror film “Oculus” despite playing at 1,000 more theaters — and “Oculus” was thought to be just OK.
Depp has been one of the most reliable franchise film anchors over the last decade, but apart from “The Lone Ranger,” he also flopped with the much narrower appeal “The Rum Diary.” “Dark Shadows” also disappointed. This project though, with major backing from Warners and the imprimatur of executive producer Nolan, had a chance to be a significant performer. The reviews didn’t help, but the public sometimes goes for high-concept, star-driven films anyway. This time, they didn’t, and the Cinemascore of C+ (even worse than “A Haunted House 2”) suggests that those who came were not impressed.
A good chunk of the financing came from the Chinese company DMG, and the film opened there this weekend too, with (in a first) a 3D version only intended to play there. Those grosses haven’t been reported as of now (they should come later today), as will some other international territories (although this is having a slow rollout, with Japan and France not opening until late June).
What comes next: This would demand a record disproportionate foreign success for the film to reach the $250 million or so worldwide gross to break even. The domestic total will struggle to reach $30 million!
5. “A Haunted House 2” (Open Road) NEW – Cinemascore: B-; Criticwire: D+; Metacritic: 13
$9,100,000 in 2,310 theaters; PSA: $3,939; Cumulative: $9,100,000
Coming in at only half of last year’s surprise low-budget first effort, even with the holiday boost, the horror/comedy sequel starring Marlon Wayans looks headed for a quick fadeout, with little chance of turning into another “Scary Movie” series. For Open Road, which has turned many of its smart acquisitions into at least successes, this follows “Sabotage” as the second straight underachiever.
What comes next: This likely has at best another week left before it disappears.
6. “Draft Day” (Lionsgate) Week 2; Last weekend #4
$5,900,000 (-40%) in 2,781 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $2,781; Cumulative: $19,540,000
The holiday weekend helped keep the drop to a decent level, but it came from a soft opening. Despite the relatively low budget ($25 million + marketing), this Ivan Reitman/Kevin Costner film is struggling to recoup its costs.
What comes next: Because of its football-centric story, this will have less foreign appeal to help defray its expense.
7. “Divergent” (Lionsgate) Week 5; Last weekend #6
$5,750,000 (-22%) in 2,486 theaters (-624); PSA: $2,313; Cumulative: $133,910,000
Continuing its respectable run, Lionsgate’s modestly-budgeted newest young adult franchise is sustaining a decent total, aided by the holiday.
What comes next: This should easily top $150 million domestic. International has passed $50 million, with multiple major countries still to open.
8. “Oculus” (Relativity) Week 2; Last weekend #3
$5,202,000 (-57%) in 2,648 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $1,965; Cumulative: $21,191,000
A big drop, continuing the trend of underachievement from horror genre films seen consistently this year so far.
What comes next: This still was a low-budget pickup, so Relatively could still come out OK on this.
9. “Noah” (Paramount) Week 4; Last weekend #5
$5,000,000 (-34%) in 2,537 theaters (-745); PSA: $1,971; Cumulative: $93,274,000
Easter helped to stabilize this underperformer, which with total worldwide numbers now around $300 million, may approach a break even result at best.
What comes next: The studios’ rush to make high-budget Bible-based stories may abate somewhat (though if Ridley Scott’s “Exodus” is a smash that could change).
10. “God’s Not Dead” (Freestyle) Week 5; Last weekend #7
$4,801,000 (-13%) in 1,796 theaters (-64); PSA: $2,673; Cumulative: $48,327,000
It didn’t quite beat the far more expensive “Noah,” but it’s holding well for Easter weekend. The biggest indie hit of the year could top last year’s biggest, “12 Years a Slave.”
What comes next: Nearing the end of its run, but this will likely spawn many imitators that will start appearing in large numbers next year.
11. “Bears” (Buena Vista) NEW – Cinemascore: A; Criticwire: B+; Metacritic: 68
$4,774,000 in 1,720 theaters; PSA: $; Cumulative: $4,774,000
For four of the last five years, Disney has released nature documentaries during April (something that has been part of their slate going back to the 1950s). “Earth” (2009) is the highest total grosser at $32 million. None has opened to less than $6 million, including two with only 1,200 theaters. So this gross comes as a disappointment. The film placed #6 on Friday, a school holiday, but that looks like its high-water mark. These are low-budget efforts though, so its fate in part will come from how much marketing it cost them.
What comes next: This of course has solid catalogue value for the studio as well as foreign appeal. So despite this weak showing, expect similar future efforts.