Box Office Guru Wrapup: Divergent Crushes the Competition

Muppets Most Wanted stumbles into #2 spot.

This weekend, grossing more than the next five films combined, the futuristic thriller Divergent opened at number one in North America with a muscular debut ranking as the year's biggest opening for a live-action movie. The Lionsgate release collected an estimated $56M from 3,936 theaters for a spectacular $14,228 average. IMAX and 3D screens helped boost ticket prices with the large-screen format accounting for an impressive 16% of the weekend business.

Succeeding where many recent young adult novels have failed, Divergent brought out its fan base effectively and came into the weekend with solid pre-sales. Opening day grosses, including Thursday night shows beginning at 8pm, raced to a stellar $22.6M with Saturday dropping 13% to $19.8M and Sunday being estimated to decline by 31% to $13.6M. Thursday/Friday sales accounted for 40% of the weekend business.

Women drove the success but the teen heroine tale did not skew as young as expected. Studio research showed that 59% of the audience was female but those over and under 25 were evenly split. Paying customers disagreed with critics as the poorly-reviewed film earned an encouraging A grade from those polled by CinemaScore. The reported production cost was about $85M.

Divergent scored the second best opening weekend of 2014 behind only the mega-toon The LEGO Movie's $69.1M. A new franchise was born as the next film in the series, Insurgent, is set to hit theaters next year followed in 2016 by Allegiant -- all on the same mid-March weekend. By no coincidence, this is the very same slot Lionsgate used to launch The Hunger Games two years ago.

Opening to soft results in second place was the family sequel Muppets Most Wanted with an estimated $16.5M from 3,194 locations for a moderate $5,170 average. Disney's new PG-rated film brought out roughly half as much business as its predecessor did when it debuted in 2011. The Muppets bowed over the Thanksgiving holiday session to $29.2M over the Friday-to-Sunday span and $41.5M across five days on its way to $88.6M overall domestically.

Reviews for Wanted were generally good, but not as strong as for the last film, which created excitement by bringing a long-popular brand back to the big screen. Competition was an issue as rival kidpics Mr. Peabody & Sherman and The LEGO Movie were still in the top ten, grossing over $324M combined in recent weeks making another kidpic not too necessary. Add in The Nut Job and the long-lasting Frozen and families have already spent more than half a billion dollars at multiplexes in 2014 on kid movies.

According to studio research, Muppets Most Wanted played 54% female and 54% under 25. The CinemaScore grade was a moderate B+. The European-set film hopes to score better internationally as it rolls out around the world over the coming weeks and months.

Making the rounds from second place, to first, to now third was the DreamWorks toon Mr. Peabody & Sherman with an estimated $11.7M weekend. The Fox release declined by 46% which was understandable given a new kidpic entering the marketplace. Cume is $81M on its way to around $110M.

Warner Bros. saw its epic action sequel 300: Rise of an Empire fall 55% to an estimated $8.7M in its third round boosting the total to $93.8M. The domestic final should end in the same neighborhood as Peabody's. Overseas, the 3D war film has taken in an impressive $195.4M to date from 63 markets for $289.2M worldwide.

Faith-based audiences came out in droves for the Freestyle release God's Not Dead which opened to an estimated $8.6M from 780 theaters for a strong $10,974 average. The PG-rated film about a college student who is challenged by his professor to prove God's existence was driven by solid advance ticket sales and by church-based outreach. Kevin Sorbo and Dean Cain starred and Duck Dynasty's popular Willie Robertson made a cameo which was used in the marketing push. God proved once again that there are large numbers of American moviegoers willing to pay to see stories that appeal to them and those who fill the demand can find much success.

Decelerating 56% in its second lap was the video game-inspired action title Need for Speed with an estimated $7.8M. It was a large but understandable drop for this type of film and the cume stands at only $30.4M for Disney. A domestic final of $45-50M seems likely. Speed is seeing much better results overseas, especially in China which is beating North America. Led by that country's $41.7M, the international total rose to $96.1M for a global tally of $126.5M with 76% coming from abroad. Speed cost about $66M to produce.

Wes Anderson's indie juggernaut The Grand Budapest Hotel continued to sparkle in its third weekend with an estimated $6.8M from 304 locations for a fantastic $22,204 average. Fox Searchlight expanded the run from last week's 66 locations and will widen again on Friday into over 800 theaters. This is about as good as it gets for specialty films successfully expanding across the country to a wider audience. Cume is $13M.

Universal's Non-Stop followed with an estimated $6.3M, off 41%, for a $78.6M total for Liam Neeson. The LEGO Movie dropped 47% to an estimated $4.1M and has amassed $243.4M to date for Warner Bros, $391M worldwide. Rounding out the top ten was the Tyler Perry flop The Single Moms Club with an estimated $3.1M, down 62%, for a $12.9M total.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $129.5M which was up 2% from last year when The Croods opened at number one with $43.6M; but down 36% from 2012 when The Hunger Games debuted on top with a jaw-dropping $152.5M.

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