Young-adult adaptation Divergent ruled the box office this weekend with an estimated $56 million. While that's a step down from the first Twilight, it's still good enough to justify Summit Entertainment's aggressive sequel plans.
Among the other new releases, Muppets Most Wanted opened significantly lower than its predecessor, while Christian drama God's Not Dead put up some surprisingly strong numbers. Divergent's $56 million debut was down 20 percent from the first Twilight, and wasn't in the same league as The Hunger Games. Still, it ranks second among 2014 movies, and eighth all-time for March releases. It also earned more in its first three days than the combined totals of YA flops Beautiful Creatures, The Host and Vampire Academy.
Recognizing that this potential franchise was a key part of the company's long-term prospects, Summit Entertainment (a Lionsgate company) executed a blockbuster-level marketing campaign for Divergent. While it wasn't explicitly stated in marketing material, Divergent was essentially sold as the heir to the Twilight and Hunger Games franchises. That may have made the movie look derivative to some people, but it did manage to connect with many outside of the book's fanbase: only half of the audience read the book ahead of time, which compares favorably to Twilight (74 percent) and The Hunger Games (76 percent).
Some other positive metrics: the audience was more evenly split between men (41 percent) and women, and between older and younger (50 percent were over the age of 25). Only 40 percent of its opening weekend gross was earned on Friday, which makes it less front-loaded than any of the Twilight or Hunger Games movies. It also received an "A" CinemaScore, suggesting word-of-mouth will be solid.
Long-term, Divergent seems poised to earn at least $130 million at the domestic box office. As long as it does decent business overseas, this is enough to justify moving forward with sequels Insurgent and Allegiant, which are currently scheduled for March 2015 and March 2016.
In second place, Muppets Most Wanted opened to an estimated $16.5 million. In contrast, the last Muppets movie earned $29.2 million in its first weekend. That's not a perfect apples-to-apples comparison: 2011's The Muppets burned off some demand with a Wednesday opening, but also got a weekend bump from Black Friday. Regardless, this is a significant decline. Muppets Most Wanted's audience skewed young (54 percent under 25) and female (54 percent). They gave the movie a "B+" CinemaScore. Considering this is playing to family audiences, it should hold up decently in the next few weeks; still, it's unlikely to make it much higher than $50 million or so. Mr. Peabody & Sherman fell 46 percent to $11.7 million. To date, the DreamWorks Animation movie has earned $81 million. 300: Rise of an Empire dropped 55 percent to $8.7 million. The sequel has now grossed $93.8 million.
At just 780 locations, God's Not Dead earned an incredible $8.56 million. That ranks seventh all-time among faith-based movies, and ranks first among those opening in fewer than 1,000 theaters. It's a bit below Courageous ($9.1 million), but above Fireproof ($6.8 million). God's Not Dead had a grassroots marketing effort targeted specifically at Christians, who often feel neglected by Hollywood. The movie featured Duck Dynasty stars Willie and Korie Robertson, along with popular Christian rock band Newsboys (who have an album titled "God's Not Dead"). At least as important was its intriguing story, which centered around a devout Christian college student's philosophical battle with his atheist professor.
Distributor Freestyle Releasing is looking to expand the movie next weekend. With good word-of-mouth, this could ultimately earn over $30 million total.
In its second weekend, Need for Speed stalled out with $7.78 million (down 56 percent). Through 10 days, the video game adaptation has earned a disappointing $30.4 million.
Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel expanded to 304 locations and earned $6.75 million. That translates to a very strong $22,204 per-theater average. The movie has already grossed nearly $13 million, and is set to expand nationwide to over 800 theaters next weekend. Around-the-World Roundup
For the second weekend, Need for Speed led the overseas box office with $29.2 million. Its biggest new market was Germany, where it opened in first place with $3 million. The real story, though, is Need for Speed's performance in China: to date, its earned $41.7 million there, which is significantly higher than its U.S. total. Need for Speed has grossed $96.1 million total, and still has Spain, France, South Korea and Japan on the way. 300: Rise of an Empire added $21 million, which brings its total to $195.4 million. Its top market so far is Russia with $16.6 million. It still has Japan and (possibly) China on the way, and should ultimately match the original 300's $245 million total.
A week ahead of its U.S. debut, Darren Aronofsky's Noah opened to $8.3 million in South Korea and $5.7 million in Mexico. That's a combined $14 million, which is more than Gravity or Inception across those two markets. All of this suggests that Noah—which is being shown in 3D in most overseas territories—is poised to do strong business as it starts to expand next weekend. Mr. Peabody & Sherman added $11.4 million for a new total of $102.2 million. Unfortunately, it only has three markets left, and will probably fall short of $200 million total.
Three weeks before it reaches U.S. theaters, Rio 2 opened to $10.4 million in Russia and Ukraine. Most of that came from Russia, where the movie took first place with $9.8 million. The first Rio earned $341 million overseas; it remains to be seen if the sequel can come close to that figure.
With $33.1 million, The Grand Budapest Hotel is already director Wes Anderson's highest-grossing movie overseas. Frozen held first place in Japan with $8 million ($28.9 million total). Sometime this weekend, Frozen passed Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides to move in to 12th place on the all-time worldwide chart. The movie has now earned $1.05 billion total, and is poised to pass Toy Story 3 ($1.063 billion) in the next week or so.