Friday Box Office: ‘The Birth of a Nation’ Can’t Overcome ‘The Girl on the Train’

     October 8, 2016

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The Friday box office numbers are in, and it looks like Tate Taylor’s adaptation of The Girl on the Train will be the clear victor this weekend. The film earned $9.4 million at 3,144 locations on Friday, which puts it on track (no pun intended) to gross $26.5 million on its opening weekend according to Variety. While that’s good enough for #1, it’s a far cry from the $37.5 million Gone Girl was able to pull in during the same frame of 2014 and on a hundred fewer screens. That being said, Gone Girl reviews were mostly positive while The Girl on the Train reactions were more mixed-to-negative.

But the bigger story this weekend is the lack of success for Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation, which shows yet again that acclaim at Sundance doesn’t necessarily translate to being a box office smash. Even if you set aside the controversy stemming from Parker’s past, here are the films that won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance for the last five years:

  • 2015 – Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
  • 2014 – Whiplash
  • 2013 – Fruitvale Station
  • 2012 – Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • 2011 – Like Crazy
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Image via Fox Searchlight

While two of those films—Whiplash and Beasts of the Southern Wild—went on to pick up Best Picture nominations, let’s look at how all five performed at the box office (worldwide):

  • Me and Earl and the Dying Girl: $9 million
  • Whiplash: $48 million
  • Fruitvale Station: $17 million
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild: $21 million
  • Like Crazy: $4 million

With that in mind, was it really wise for Fox Searchlight to pay $17.5 million for the rights? Remember, that number was just for the rights. It doesn’t include P&A, and part of Parker’s deal demanded that the film would get a big promotional push, which is why he took less money from Fox Searchlight than he would have received from Netflix.

And what did it add up to? The Birth of a Nation earned $2.6 million at 2,105 theaters, and it’s looking at an opening weekend of $8 million. Could it have legs and go on to be a hit? Sure, but the weeks ahead have plenty of competition like The Accountant, Kevin Hart: Now What?, and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Fox Searchlight thought they had a bonafide Oscar contender with The Birth of a Nation, but now I wouldn’t be surprised if they invested their energy in the acclaimed and less-controversial Jackie, which opens in December.

The weekend’s third new wide release was Lionsgate and CBS’ Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, in which a principal hates creativity and a student goes on to prank said principal. We already knew that live-action PG movies are pretty much dead; I’m not sure we needed a film to prove it. Nevertheless, the film was released and earned $2 million on Friday, which should bring in about $6.4 million over the weekend.

Check out the Top 5 below and check back tomorrow for a full rundown of the weekend estimates:

Rank Title Friday Total
1 The Girl on the Train
$9,350,000 $9,350,000
2 Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
$3,950,000 $40,003,483
3 Deepwater Horizon
$3,420,000 $30,188,388
4 The Birth of a Nation
$2,625,000 $2,625,000
5 The Magnificent Seven
$2,600,000 $69,365,393

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