Weekend Box Office: DIVERGENT Delivers $56 Million Debut; MUPPETS MOST WANTED Softer than Expected

     March 23, 2014


It was far from a record-breaker, but Divergent did manage to break the box office curse that has doomed most young adult adaptations over the last two years.  Divergent brought in an estimated $56 million on its debut weekend, which was right in line with pre-release expectations.  It was a different story for fellow new releases Muppets Most Wanted and God’s Not Dead.  While the Muppet sequel underperformed with $16.5 million, the independent Christian film pulled off a surprise top five finish and earned over $8.5 million from just 780 locations.

 Title Weekend Total
1.  Divergent $56,000,000 $56
2.  Muppets Most Wanted $16,510,000 $16.5
3.  Mr. Peabody and Sherman $11,700,000 $81
4.  300: Rise of an Empire $8,670,000 $93.7
5.  God’s Not Dead $8,560,000 $8.5
6.  Need for Speed $7,780,000 $30.4
7.  The Grand Budapest Hotel $6,750,000 $12.9
8.  Non-Stop $6,300,000 $78.5
9.  The LEGO Movie $4,115,000 $243.3
10.  Tyler Perry’s Single Moms Club $3,100,000 $12.9


divergent-posterNot too long ago, March was considered a bad time to launch a major motion picture.  With studios saving their big guns for summer, the month was reserved primarily for second tier family films and comedies: not the sort of movies destined to end up on an annual top ten list, in other words.  But March has seen a dramatic box office rebirth in recent years, beginning in 2007 with 300 and stretching to last year’s Oz: The Great and Powerful.  In fact, in both 2010 and 2012, a March debut ranked as one of the top three highest-grossing releases of the entire year: 2010 gave us Alice in Wonderland and, in 2012, The Hunger Games premiered.  For the latter, a debut of $152.5 million (the third highest debut ever, at the time) came as a surprise to the executives at Lionsgate and, for last year’s sequel, the franchise was moved to a more blockbuster-friendly date in late November.

Following their triumph with The Hunger Games, it’s no surprise that Lionsgate/Summit chose March to introduce Divergent.  Both properties are based on a popular series of young adult books set in a dystopian world, and both feature appealing female leads.  Even so, the outsized success of Katniss Everdeen has proved the exception rather than the rule for young adult adaptations.  In a little over one year, YA titles like Beautiful Creatures, The Host and Vampire Academy (all best sellers in print) have crashed and burned at the box office.  With this in mind, studio execs tried to downplay expectations for Divergent; letting us know that, despite the familiar release date, no one was expecting another Hunger Games.

And that’s a good thing, because the similarities between Divergent and its YA predecessor stop at the box office.  Using The Hunger Games, or even the first Twilight film ($69.6 million), as a reference, Divergent’s opening looks soft.  When compared to almost any other young adult book adaptation, however (from Percy Jackson & the Olympians through The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones), Divergent is already a powerhouse.  As with any new release, the real test will be how well it holds up in its second and third frames – after all the hype has died down.

muppets-most-wanted-posterFor the week’s second new release, the hype never quite arrived.  Muppets Most Wanted, Disney’s follow-up to 2011’s The Muppets, was expected to bring in about $22 million this weekend.  Instead, the sequel earned an estimated $16.5 million from 3,194 locations – well under the $29.2 million debut of the last Muppets movie.  The Muppets was a solid, if unspectacular, box office performer back in 2011. After its Thanksgiving debut, the reboot fell off by 62% (huge for a family film over the holidays) on its second weekend and ended its run with a domestic total of $88.6 million.  In light of that history – and this weekend’s uninspiring debut – the future does not look particularly bright for Muppets Most Wanted.

I won’t venture to guess what the future will hold for God’s Not Dead, the independent Christian film that is making Son of God-sized news this weekend.  Before Friday, I had never heard of the film, so certainly could not imagine it was destined to break out in the manner of this month’s heavily marketed, big screen version of The Bible TV miniseries.  In fact, God’s Not Dead may already be more successful than Son of God, in at least one respect.  The film brought in an estimated  $8.5 million from 780 locations, while Son of God earned $25.6 million from 3,260 locations.  That gives God’s Not Dead a higher per screen average than Son of God – by a wide margin.  The film also opened in line with recent indie Christian ‘blockbusters’ like Fireproof ($6.8 million) and Courageous ($9.1 million).

Next weekend, 2014’s Christian streak continues with the debut of Noah.  Unlike Son of God and God’s Not Dead, director Darren Aronofsky’s biblical epic has not been championed by American faith communities, so it will have to rely on mainstream audiences to deliver a strong opening.  At this point, Noah is expected to bring in about $40 million on its debut weekend.  That number could go up or down in the coming week, though the early buzz seems to favor ‘down.’


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