Meanwhile, Chris Rock's Top Five got off to a decent start, and Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice did big business at a few theaters in New York and Los Angeles.
The Top 12 earned $76.7 million, which makes this one of the slowest weekends of the year. Business will pick up next weekend, though it does look like this will be one of the worst Decembers in recent memory.
Playing at 3,503 locations, Exodus: Gods and Kings opened to an estimated $24.1 million this weekend. That doesn't compare favorably to this year's previous Biblical movies, as its nearly $20 million lower than Noah's debut and roughly on par with the much-less-expensive Son of God.
That's not really an apples-to-apples comparison, though, as opening weekends in December are historically muted. Still, Exodus doesn't look all that impressive against past December releases, either: it was roughly on par with The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader ($24 million) and The Golden Compass ($25.8 million).
While this is definitely not a good debut, it would be premature to write the movie's obituary. If Exodus holds up like the third Narnia movie, it will wind up eclipsing Noah's $101.2 million; that's a fine result when considering the movie's international potential.
At the same time, though, there's reason to believe the movie won't hold up nearly as well as Narnia. It's received horrible reviews (27 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), and word-of-mouth seems mixed (it has a poor "B-" CinemaScore). There's a chance, then, that Exodus plays like The Golden Compass, which would translate to a total below $70 million. That would be a hugely disappointing result.
It's likely that Exodus winds up somewhere in between those two. If it follows the pattern of the last two Hobbit movies—which opened on the same weekend over the past two years—Exodus would wrap up in the $85 to $90 million range.
The movie's audience was 54 percent male and 65 percent over the age of 25. 3D screens accounted for 44 percent of the gross, which is an above-average result for the format.
In second place, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 eased 42 percent to $12.7 million. That's slightly below Catching Fire's $13.7 million fourth weekend, which is impressive considering how much lower Mockingjay was in its first two weekends. To date, Mockingjay has earned $276.9 million; if it follows Catching Fire's pattern from here, it will wind up as the highest-grossing movie of the year with over $335 million.
Penguins of Madagascar added $7.2 million, which was off 34 percent from last weekend. Penguins has now grossed $58.7 million, which is $3 million lower than Rise of the Guardians through the same point. With tons of family competition entering the market in the next two weeks, Penguins is going to struggle to get to $90 million.
Playing at 979 theaters, Chris Rock's Top Five opened to $6.9 million this weekend. That's above Rock's last directorial outing, I Think I Love My Wife, which opened to $5.7 million at nearly twice as many theaters.
More so than Exodus, Top Five's true fate will be determined over the next month or so. Paramount is planning to further expand the movie, though it's unclear exactly how wide it's going to go (it's hard to imagine that they'll have it at 2,000 theaters over Christmas). If word-of-mouth catches on, there's a chance this gets to $40 million, which would be a good result.
Disney Animation's Big Hero 6 took fifth place with $6.06 million, which brings its total to an impressive $185.2 million. It will pass Wreck-It Ralph's $189.4 million total before Christmas. Meanwhile, Christopher Nolan's Interstellar added $5.45 million for a new total of $166.75 million. It's likely that this falls hard next weekend when it gives up its IMAX screens to The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.
A handful of movies appear to have benefited from scoring Golden Globe nominations on Thursday. Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything essentially held even this weekend, dropping seven percent to $2.47 million. To date, the movie has earned $17.1 million.
Wild (2014) expanded to 166 theaters and earned $1.53 million. Fox Searchlight seems bullish on this, and announced on Sunday that it's moving up the nationwide expansion to December 19th (at least 850 locations). Fellow Fox Searchlight movie Birdman, which scored seven Globe nominations, was up 14 percent to $1.31 million, and has now earned over $20 million total.
The Imitation Game (five Globe nominations) earned $850,262 at 25 locations, which translates to a massive $34,010 per-theater average. The movie's release pattern has so far mirrored that of The King's Speech, which was also from The Weinstein Company; that suggests that The Imitation Game could expand nationwide on Christmas.
Paul Thomas Anderson's Inherent Vice opened to $328,184 at five locations this weekend. That translates to a per-theater average of $65,637, which is a strong result: the only 2014 releases ahead of it are The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Birdman and Boyhood.
Still, Inherent Vice's average was lower than that of Anderson's last three movies: it's less than half of The Master's $147,262 average, and is also below There Will Be Blood and Punch-Drunk Love.
Warner Bros. is planning a nationwide expansion for Inherent Vice on January 9th.
Around-the-World Roundup: 'Hobbit' Finale Opens to $117.6 Million Overseas >>
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• 'Exodus' to Reign Supreme at the Box Office This Weekend
• 'Hunger Games' Leads One of the Worst Weekends of the Year
This Timeframe in Past Years:
• 2013 - 'Smaug' Sets Fire to Box Office, Misses First 'Hobbit's Mark
• 2012 - 'Hobbit' Takes December Record, Misses $100 Million
• 2011 - Disappointed Debuts From 'Sherlock,' 'Alvin' Sequels
• 2010 - 'Tron' Recycles the Power
• 2009 - 'Avatar' Soars in Debut
• 2008 - 'The Day the Earth' Stalls
• 2007 - 'Legend,' 'Chipmunk' Enliven Box Office
• 2006 - 'Pursuit' Overtakes 'Eragon,' 'Web'
• 2005 - 'King Kong' Mighty But No Monster
• Weekend Box Office Results
• Yearly Box Office