Here are your three-day box office returns (new releases bolded):
1. Noah - $44.0 million ($44.0 million total)
2. Divergent - $26.5 million ($95.2 million total)
3. Muppets Most Wanted - $11.3 million ($33.2 million total)
4. Mr. Peabody & Sherman - $9.5 million ($94.9 million total)
5. God's Not Dead - $9.0 million ($22.0 million total)
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel - $8.8 million ($24.4 million total)
7. Sabotage - $5.3 million ($5.3 million total)
8. Need for Speed - $4.33 million ($37.7 million total)
9. 300: Rise of an Empire - $4.30 million ($101.1 million total)
10. Non-Stop - $4.0 million ($85.1 million total)
The Big Stories
Last year everyone was waiting around for Paramount to take a major bath on World War Z. Over budget in reshoots, the apparent disaster managed to screen to mostly favorable reviews and went on to gross over $540 million worldwide. The major victory was not that it was the 12th highest grossing film of 2013, but that it managed to get anywhere close into profit let alone a fairly decent one for the studio. Nine months later and all eyes are on Paramount's Noah. With a budget estimated anywhere between $125-160 million, could the studio pull off another miracle?
Audiences Get On Board
Time will tell if the studio has averted another disaster, but it has to be feeling pretty good this weekend as Noah took number one and exceeded the early expectations. Once estimated with around a start in the mid-30s, Darren Aronofsky's film took it up a notch with $45 million in its first three days. Make sure to turn a deaf ear to any report saying that reviews were mixed or critics were down on the film. Despite being treated like the wicked men and women not allowed on the ark, critics liked it well enough to make it the fourth best reviewed wide release of 2014, just mere percentage points away from, inexplicably, Mr. Peabody & Sherman. It's bad enough to see the spin on Aronofsky's vision by those who won't even see the film. We don't need it from our box office reports.
So let's get real on Noah's prospects. Only 15 movies in the record-breaking year of 2013 managed to open to $43 million or more. Noah is already the fourth to do it in 2014 and we're not out of March. Just one film last year opened to $40 million and didn't hit $100 million and that was the front-loaded Insidious: Chapter 2. The next weakest multiplier was the similarly front-loaded The Hangover Part III ($112 million). This year, both 300: Rise of an Empire and Divergent are crossing $100 million as we speak (the latter in a few days.) Ride Along went on to gross over $133 million. That seems like a reasonable target that is going to depend on some good word of mouth. Hopefully, Noah's "C" Cinemascore isn't a result of angry literalists flooding the ballot box. But is that enough to keep Paramount above water? Like anything these days, it is dependent on its overseas tally. Fifty-one million dollars is a decent start, but the film is going to need roughly another $200 million worldwide for it to break even. Though that does entirely depend on precisely which budget number you believe in.
No Matter How You Say It, It Stinks
"I don't say sab-uh-tahzh, I say sab-a-taj. You say sab-uh-tahzh." That was William Shatner years ago recording a Star Trek voiceover. If only David Ayer's film was indeed pronounced "Sab-a-taj" it would have established it had a sense of humor over its own awfulness. Arnold Schwarzenegger's line readings are still a constant source of amusement that should be preserved on phone apps everywhere, but his draw as a leading man appears to be officially done. No longer will it be the Arnold going on The Tonight Show saying his film is going to be number one when his film can't even break the top five.
Sabotage is the third straight Schwarzenegger vehicle since his full-time return to acting to open to under $10 million and looks to be the second lowest grossing film of his career, above just Red Sonja's $6.9 million. Play the inflation game and its Arnold's worst showing ever. From here on out it will be the material to draw in the crowd. Whether or not the popularity of zombies will take a hit with Schwarzenegger's presence remains to be seen when Maggie is released. After that, he's connected to one sequel or reboot after another to Expendables, Terminator, Conan and even Twins. The mighty has fallen hard.
Tales of the Top 10
Once again it is the limited releases that are the story. God's Not Dead, which snuck its way into theaters with an $9.2 million start in only 780 theaters, added another 362 screens and $9 million this weekend. With a cumulative of over $22 million, it only needs another $13 to overtake Fireproof and Courageous as the highest grossing "faith-based" films ever. Speaking of niches, Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel continues to find an audience. By more than tripling its screens, this is the highest finish Anderson has had in the top 10 since the 2002 January expansion of The Royal Tenenbaums, which remains his highest grosser to date with over $52 million.
Unfortunately the platform strategy for Jason Bateman's Bad Words has not worked out. After two weeks of very limited release, 755 added screens later and it only made $2.6 million. Apparently Focus didn't notice Bateman's involvement with high-concept comedy lately? Identity Thief and Horrible Bosses started with $34.5 and $28.3 million, respectively. Even The Change-Up opened to $13.5 million which is a number Bad Words won't even hit if word of mouth doesn't catch on. That's what happens when people can't find your movie. In a marketplace that is pretty starved for intentional comedy right now, Bad Words is not a film that should be making less than Cesar Chavez ($3 million) this weekend.
Divergent had an OK hold in its second weekend, but is hardly the out-of-this-world blockbuster that Summit was hoping for. Mr. Peabody & Sherman will be passing $100 million in the U.S. next weekend but is still far away from recouping its costs. Dreamworks should be feeling a little better about Need for Speed, which is barely going to break $40 million here, but over $130 million overseas will keep the studio from having back-to-back losers. Better news for Warner Bros., which can officially call 300: Rise of an Empire a hit. While not close to the success of the 2007 original, the studio can take comfort that moving it from last summer into this March was the correct call. We'll see if the studio's number one ranking for 2014 can continue with Transcendence and Godzilla.
And while out of the top 10 and on to the home video market, Disney's Frozen has passed $1,072.4 billion to become the highest grossing animated film of all time. Still just shy of $400 million in the U.S., the $674 million overseas makes it also the number one Disney or Pixar film released outside the States. The film passes Toy Story 3's $1,063.2 billion and is now the 10th highest grossing film worldwide in history.
Erik Childress can be seen each Thursday morning on WCIU-TV's First Business breaking down the box office on the Movies & Money segment.
MORE FROM AROUND THE WEB: