Ridley Scott’s latest historical epic – the Moses tale Exodus: Gods and Kings – opened at number one at the North American box office topping another sluggish frame. The Fox release debuted to an estimated $24.5M from 3,503 locations for a good $6,994 average. It was a nice start for a non-franchise film debuting in mid-December, a typically slow period when Christmas shopping distracts a large number of adults.
Reviews were generally negative for the Christian Bale-led pic which had 3D and premium large format options. The opening was about even with the $25.7M of 2007’s The Golden Compass, another effects-heavy adventure film released in the first half of December. That big-budget movie finished with a domestic total less than three times its opening weekend figure. Older males made up the primary audience for Exodus, as expected. Studio research showed that 54% of the audience was male and 65% was over 25. 44% of the gross came from the 3D screens.
The ancient Egypt-set film opened well behind the $43.7M of March’s Biblical adventure Noah starring Russell Crowe, however it was never expected to reach that level due in part to a slower play period and harsher reviews. The opening weekend of Exodus accounted for 30% of all ticket sales across the entire Top 20 compared to 32% for Noah’s debut.
The road ahead for Moses could be troubling for two main reasons. First, paying audiences are not exactly liking what Scott has put together. The CinemaScore grade was a lackluster B- and the audience score from Flixster users is a weak 40%. Secondly, direct competition comes in the form of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies which will steal away moviegoers looking for epic effects-driven adventure on the big screen when it unspools on Tuesday night with 7pm shows. International markets will be key for a film like Exodus which already began to open in overseas territories a week before North America. Those markets grossed $18.8M this weekend with many more key debuts to still come from now through late January.
After ruling the box office for three weeks, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 fell to the runner-up spot and took in an estimated $13.2M which was roughly the same as what Catching Fire collected in its fourth frame last year. Off 40%, Mockingjay bumped its domestic cume up to $277.4M which is still 22% behind the pace of Fire at the same point in its run. Overseas sales for the latest Katniss pic rose to $334M putting the worldwide tally at an impressive $611.4M with China still to open in February.
Dropping 33% to an estimated $7.3M was the DreamWorks Animation offering Penguins of Madagascar which has done $58.8M to date. The spinoff released by Fox is now running 5% behind the toon studio’s Rise of the Guardians from this same time period two years ago which stood at a better $61.8M on its way to a disappointing $103.4M final.
Opening close behind in fourth place was Chris Rock’s acclaimed comedy Top Five with an estimated $7.2M from just 979 theaters for a strong $7,365 average. Paramount bought the rights for $12.5M at the Toronto International Film Festival just a few months ago and put the theatrical release plan on the fast track. The R-rated pic features many popular comedians in supporting roles and cameos giving it an ample amount of starpower. With stellar reviews and a wider expansion planned, Top Five could have a bright future over the weeks ahead during the holidays.
Disney’s animated hit Big Hero 6 held up well again dipping 24% to an estimated $6.1M in its sixth weekend for a new cume of $185.3M. With fantastic word-of-mouth and no new toons opening until January, look for Baymax to enjoy a lucrative run through the Christmas holidays.
Also in its sixth round, the sci-fi epic Interstellar grossed an estimated $5.5M, off 29%, for a new total of $166.8M for Paramount. Crude comedy sequels followed. Horrible Bosses 2 fell 45% to an estimated $4.6M for Warner Bros. while Dumb and Dumber To dropped 35% to an estimated $2.8M for Universal. New sums are $43.6M and $82.1M, respectively.
Rounding out the top ten were awards contenders gunning for acting kudos. The Mr. and Mrs. Hawking pic The Theory of Everything expanded and boosted its theater count by 48% allowing the weekend gross to ease by just 5% to an estimated $2.5M. Focus has collected a solid $17.1M for the Golden Globe nominee for Best Picture – Drama. Reese Witherspoon earned a Globe nod for Best Actress for her new film Wild which expanded from 21 to 116 locations and entered the top ten with an estimated $1.6M. Averaging a solid $13,362 per site, the Fox Searchlight release will continue to roll out widening to over 850 locations nationwide next weekend.
In specialty release, Benedict Cumberbatch’s The Imitation Game expanded from eight to 25 locations and remained very strong with an estimated $875,000 for a sturdy $35,000 average. The Weinstein Co. has taken in $2M and is slowly rolling the acclaimed awards contender out. Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film Inherent Vice got off to a stellar platform start with an estimated $330,000 from just five theaters for a sensational $66,000 average. The results were half of what the director’s last film The Master did in its platform launch two years ago – $147,262 average also in five sites. Still, hardcore fans came out and the weeks ahead will see it compete with several other awards contenders in major markets in a crowded marketplace for prestige films.
Overseas this weekend, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies got its international run started with a powerful launch in 37 markets leading to a stellar $117.6M debut. The third and final chapter of the trilogy opened better than the first two installments in all key markets indicating heavy fan interest in taking the journey to Middle Earth one last time. 160 IMAX screens averaged a sturdy $40,000 each and that count will jump to 579 global screens next weekend including 360 from North America. The leading markets this weekend were Germany ($19.5M), the United Kingdom ($15.2M), and France ($14.5M) with Italy, Spain and Korea opening on Wednesday followed by Australia on Boxing Day and China on January 23.
The top ten films grossed an estimated $75.4M which was down 46% from last year when The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug opened at number one with $73.6M; and down 41% from 2012 when The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey debuted in the top spot with $84.6M. The absence of a Middle Earth tentpole accounted for much of the difference this weekend.