Box Office Guru Wrapup: Noah Rides the Wave to Number One

Divergent and Muppets Most Wanted round out the top three.

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The artsy epic adventure Noah conquered the North American box office with a strong opening of $44M, according to estimates. The Paramount release successfully countered some bad buzz to get audiences out to the multiplexes in the first weekend and will now hope that momentum can roll into the coming weeks of April. Led by Russell Crowe, the PG-13 pic averaged a muscular $12,335 from 3,567 locations including 341 IMAX screens which contributed a solid $6.2M (14%) of the tally.

Mixed results from the opening weekend make it difficult to predict how well Noah will hold up. Reviews were generally positive, however paying customers were not very satisfied. First-day audiences polled by CinemaScore gave a poor C grade. Those expecting a more standard and literal interpretation of the ancient tale may have been disappointed while those looking for big-screen Hollywood escapism might have been more satisfied.

Despite that, second-day sales went up 16%. Older-skewing non-sequels typically do that, however Noah started its run with 7pm shows on Thursday with all of that night's sales tossed into the "Friday" gross making the Saturday jump impressive. The studio projected a 36% drop on Sunday, though a stronger turn out from churchgoers could change that as seen with recent faith-based hits.

Studio research showed that the $125M-budgeted Darren Aronofsky picture had great cross-gender appeal with males and females split evenly. It was a much older skew with 74% of the crowd being 25 or older. Recent faith-based hits God's Not Dead and Son of God have grossed a combined $80M to date and trailers for Noah playing with many of those shows certainly helped that audience put the ark pic on its calendar.

Overseas business has been red hot for Noah and this weekend saw an estimated $33.6M taken in from 22 markets boosting the early cume to $51.1M and the worldwide tally to $95.1M. Russia was the stand-out generating the biggest opening weekend in history in that country for a non-sequel with a stunning $17.2M. More major markets open this coming week including Germany, Brazil, Spain, and the U.K. The worldwide gross will certainly surpass $300M and may even reach beyond $400M with some key European markets opening closer to Easter.

The sci-fi pic Divergent dropped a notch to second place with an estimated $26.5M in its sophomore session pushing the cume up to a sturdy $95.3M. The Lionsgate release fell by 52% which was commendable for a book-inspired film with such an upfront audience. The first Hunger Games and Twilight movies tumbled on their second weekends by 62% each. Divergent may end its domestic run in the vicinity of $160M. It cost about half that much to produce.

Two kidpics captured the next spots on the chart. Disney's sequel Muppets Most Wanted dropped by a moderate 33% in its second weekend to an estimated $11.4M. Evil frog Constantine and his pals have collected $33.2M which is down 31% from where the last Muppets movie was at the same point in its theatrical run. Look for a final in the neighborhood of $60M. Holding up quite well in its fourth round was the DreamWorks toon Mr. Peabody & Sherman with an estimated $9.5M, off just 20%. Fox has taken in $94.9M so far and will crack $100M by Saturday.

A pair of successfully expanding films followed. The faith-based drama God's Not Dead widened from 780 to 1,178 locations and grossed an estimated $9.1M which was off a scant 2% from the opening weekend tally. The Freestyle release has banked an impressive $22M in ten days and could finish in the $45-50M range.

Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel continued its picture perfect roll-out expanding from 304 to 977 theaters for its first full nationwide weekend. The Fox Searchlight hit collected an estimated $8.8M for the frame, up 30%, and still posted a muscular average with $9,033 as the film reaches out beyond arthouses and fans of the director. It has now become the thinking man's comedy for the spring and is cashing in on stellar word-of-mouth. With an impressive $24.5M to date, Budapest is likely to become Anderson's highest grossing film ever beating the $52.4M of 2001's The Royal Tenenbaums.

Former box office star Arnold Schwarzenegger suffered his worst opening in nearly three decades with his latest action offering Sabotage which was utterly rejected by audiences debuting to a miserable $5.3M, according to estimates. The R-rated pic averaged a flimsy $2,144 from 2,486 locations for Open Road despite the actor hitting the pavement and making lots of appearances to sell his product. It was the worst opening for Schwarzenegger since the 1985 flop Red Sonja. Critics, not surprisingly, panned Sabotage and audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film a mild B grade.

Two action films followed with an estimated $4.3M a piece. Disney's Need for Speed fell 45% for a lackluster $37.8M cume while the Warner Bros. sequel 300: Rise of an Empire dropped 49% joining the century club with $101.1M to date.

Liam Neeson rounded out the top ten with his latest winner Non-Stop which grossed an estimated $4.1M, off 36%, for a $85.2M sum to date. The Universal action thriller may finish in the $95-100M range.

Lionsgate saw a moderate debut from its biopic Cesar Chavez which opened to an estimated $3M from 664 theaters for a mild $4,518 average. Starring Michael Peņa, America Ferrera, Rosario Dawson and John Malkovich, the PG-13 film about the famous civil rights activist did not impress film critics, but it did satisfy paying customers as its CinemaScore grade was a solid A.

The Latino audience was targeted, but the turnout was not overly impressive. Competition from many faith-based films marketing to that same crowd had an impact. Among wide releases, Chavez was the only one to drop from Friday to Saturday, and the only one with a projected increase from Saturday to Sunday so final numbers to be reported on Monday may show a different picture.

The Indonesian action sequel The Raid 2 debuted to strong results in platform release in New York and Los Angeles. Sony Classics saw an estimated $177,000 from seven locations for a $25,286 average. Reviews were very positive and the R-rated pic generated some advance heat with a special screening at the Sundance film festival in January. Raid 2 expands Friday to more major cities before going nationwide on April 11.

In other global box office activity, Captain America: The Winter Soldier began its worldwide roll-out with an impressive $75.2M opening across 32 international markets this weekend led by Korea and the U.K. It has debuted two to four times larger than its 2011 predecessor in various countries. The Marvel juggernaut opens this coming week in several major markets including Russia, Australia and China as well as North America where first shows begin at 8pm on Thursday night in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D formats.

Disney's double Oscar winner Frozen became the highest-grossing animated film in history this weekend. With continued strength and strong legs in Japan, the overseas cume rose to $674M propelling the snow sisters past Toy Story 3 to win the toon global box office crown with $1.07 billion to date. It currently ranks number 10 among all blockbusters overall, but don't expect it to just sit there. In the coming weeks, look for Frozen to beat The Dark Knight Rises and then challenge Skyfall for the number eight spot on the all-time list.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $127.3M which was down 7% from last year when G.I. Joe: Retaliation opened at number one with $40.5M; and down 8% from 2012 when The Hunger Games remained on top with $58.6M.

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