Meanwhile, Birdman opened at four locations in New York and Los Angeles and scored one of the best per-theater averages ever for a live-action movie.
Opening at 3,173 theaters, Fury rolled in to first place this weekend with $23.7 million. This debut is in the same general ballpark as movies like Captain Phillips ($25.7 million), Act of Valor ($24.5 million) and The Monuments Men ($22 million). That's a fine range to be in, though it's a bit disappointing considering how far off it is from recent R-rated thrillers Gone Girl ($37.5 million) and The Equalizer ($34.1 million).
Sony's marketing played up Fury's intense tank-on-tank action, which made it a strong option among male moviegoers. Unfortunately, the movie never really connected with women, who wound up accounting for just 40 percent of the audience on opening weekend. It also struggled with younger moviegoers: the audience was 51 percent over the age of 35.
With an "A-" CinemaScore and very solid reviews (80 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), Fury should hold up well in the coming weeks. A final total in the $70-to-$80 million range is likely.
Gone Girl had another strong hold in its third weekend: the David Fincher thriller eased 34 percent to $17.5 million. Over the weekend, it passed Fincher's last two movies (The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and has now earned $106.8 million total. The movie remains on track to finish with around $160 million.
Playing at 3,070 theaters, The Book of Life opened to $17 million this weekend. That's a bit higher than Reel FX's first feature-length movie Free Birds ($15.8 million), and is roughly on par with last month's The Boxtrolls ($17.3 million).
There's nothing wrong with this debut; along with The Boxtrolls, it's also generally comparable to recent family-friendly movies Alexander and Dolphin Tale 2. With international added in, this could ultimately be a minor hit. If anything, this serves as another reminder that getting to the coveted $20 million mark is tough for animated movies that aren't from one of the big production houses (Pixar, Disney, DreamWorks, Blue Sky, Illumination, Sony Pictures Animation).
The Book of Life's audience was 57 percent female, and 30 percent Hispanic (which actually seems a bit low, given the movie's strong connection with the Day of the Dead holiday). 3D accounted for around 31 percent of ticket sales. With good reviews and solid word-of-mouth ("A-" CinemaScore), The Book of Life will likely wind up between $50 and $60 million.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day eased 38 percent to $11.5 million. Through 10 days, Alexander has earned $36.3 million, and is on track to earn over $60 million total.
At 2,936 theaters, The Best of Me opened in fifth place with $10 million. That's less than half of Safe Haven's $21.4 million debut (and that was after burning off a ton of demand on Valentine's Day). In fact, this is the worst debut ever for a Nicholas Sparks movie.
The Best of Me's disappointing opening reinforces the notion that even a brand as powerful as Nicholas Sparks isn't infallible. The movie looked and sounded like a Sparks adaptation, but was missing some key ingredients. Most notably, it was unclear where the conflict was: by focusing on the older versions of the main characters (James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan), the movie lost any "will they or won't they" tension that might have existed. Watching two people go on long walks and smush faces together for an hour-and-a-half has limited appeal.
Unsurprisingly, the movie's audience was made up primarily of women (70 percent). It also skewed younger (56 percent under the age of 25). With a so-so "B+" CinemaScore, look for this to wrap up with less than $30 million (which would make it the lowest-grossing Sparks movie ever).
After a solid second place debut last weekend, Dracula Untold fell to sixth place with $9.99 million. That's a 58 percent drop, which is steep but fairly common among Dracula's comparable titles. To date, the movie has earned $40.8 million, and is on track to wrap up with around $60 million.
The Judge eased 40 percent to $7.9 million this weekend. The Robert Downey Jr. drama has grossed $26.8 million so far, and could ultimately crack $40 million. Fellow Warner Bros. title Annabelle wasn't far behind with $7.88 million ($74.1 million total).
At four locations in New York and Los Angeles, Birdman opened to an excellent $424,397 this weekend. That translates to a $106,099 per-theater average, which ranks 18th all-time (eighth among live-action movies). It's also the second-highest average of the year behind The Grand Budapest Hotel (also from Fox Searchlight).
While this is an undeniably strong start, it's important to remember that this movie is catnip for Los Angeles and New York moviegoers (the Hollywood satire, the Broadway setting, the reviews and awards buzz, etc.). The movie is accessible enough that it will certainly avoid becoming the next Inside Llewyn Davis ($13.2 million), The Tree of Life ($13.3 million) or The Master ($16.4 million). But can it get near recent Searchlight hits The Grand Budapest Hotel and 12 Years a Slave ($59.1 million and $56.7 million, respectively)? Maybe not.
Fox Searchlight is planning to expand Birdman in to around 45 to 50 theaters next weekend. Look for it to make a nationwide break sometime in early November.
Birdman wasn't the only limited release success this weekend. Sundance hit Dear White People opened to $344,000 at 11 locations, which translates to a very strong $31,273 per-theater average. It appears that the great reviews (97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), pervasive press tour (first-time director Justin Simien has been all over the place), and hot-button subject matter has sparked a ton of interest.
Distributor Roadside Attractions is planning an aggressive expansion; next weekend, the movie will be playing in around 350 theaters in the top 75 markets.
Jason Reitman's Men, Women & Children expanded to 608 theaters, but somehow earned less than Birdman (four theaters) and Dear White People (11 theaters). In fact, Men, Women & Children's $320,000 debut ranks as the fifth-lowest start ever for a movie in nationwide release (600+ theaters). That's a stunning result given the fact that it's from the director of Juno and Up in the Air and features Adam Sandler and Ansel Elgort (The Fault in our Stars).
Men, Women & Children was sunk by a variety of issues. The movie received dismal reviews; in a season with so many competitive offerings, it's tough to break out when there's the perception that the movie isn't worthwhile. It doesn't help that few were aware the movie was even reaching theaters, as Paramount put forth a very light marketing effort focused primarily around publicity (low cost, but low impact as well). The material that was available made the movie look fairly unappealing: does anyone really want to watch a grim drama that critiques our debilitating addiction to technology?
Including its two weeks in limited release, Men, Women & Children has earned $475,000 total. It's doubtful that Paramount is able or willing to hold these theaters—the barely-wide expansion felt like they were fulfilling a contractual requirement, anyway—and it wouldn't be surprising if this ended its run with less than $1 million.
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This Weekend's Forecast:
• 'Fury' to Invade Top Spot This Weekend
This Weekend in Past Years
• 2013 - 'Gravity' Wins Again, 'Carrie' Leads Weak Newcomers
• 2012 - Disappointing Debuts for 'Paranormal 4,' 'Alex Cross'
• 2011 - 'Paranormal' Possesses Fall Record
• 2010 - 'Jackass' Crashes Into Fall Record
• 2009 - 'Wild Things' Roars, 'Citizen,' 'Activity' Thrill
• 2007 - '30 Days of Night' Leads Lifeless Crowd
• 2006 - 'Prestige' Rises to the Top,' 'Flags' Lags
• 2005 - 'Doom' and Gloom
• Weekend Box Office Results
• All-Time Domestic