Divergent was dauntless at the box office this weekend, easily winning the top spot with an estimated $56 million. Meanwhile, the Muppets failed to take multiplexes in Muppets Most Wanted, earning $16.5 million, and the faith-based indie God’s Not Dead inspired an awesome $8.6 million from just 780 theaters.
Starring Shailene Woodley and Theo James as rebels in a dystopian future, the PG-13 action film Divergent aimed for the same moviegoers who gave The Hunger Games a surprise $152.5 million opening weekend in March, 2012. With a $56 million debut, Divergent didn’t reach those heights — and even fell slightly below the predictions of some analysts, who had pegged the movie for a $60 million-plus debut.
Like many buzzy films, it started strong out of the gate: A teen-targeted marketing blitz transformed the movie into an event for young fans, who turned out in droves for late-night Thursday screenings that grossed $4.9 million even before the official start of the weekend. Critical reaction has been lackluster, though the film earned a solid A CinemaScore and praise from EW’s Owen Gleiberman, who called it an “agreeably rousing, sensitive-teen-in-Amish-linen-finds-her-inner-tattooed-jock-to-fight-the-power formula dystopian thriller.” Regardless, a sequel, Insurgent, has already been greenlit by Lionsgate for release on March 20, 2015. The trilogy’s finale, Allegiant, is scheduled for March 18, 2016, showing Hollywood’s continued faith in spring as a box-office launchpad after the success of recent March hits like The Hunger Games ($408 million total) and Oz the Great and Powerful ($234 million). (However, after the first Hunger Games installment’s release, Lionsgate did bump the remainder of the trilogy into the more competitive Thanksgiving time frame.)
The weekend’s other wide release, Muppets Most Wanted, proved that it’s still not easy being green — at least at the box office: Budgeted at a reported $50 million, Disney’s kid-friendly adventure made $16.5 million in its debut. Despite a pack of big-name, live-action co-stars (Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, et al), Kermit and his gang failed to bring in the same crowds who racked up a $29.2 million opening for the 2011 franchise reboot, The Muppets. (That film stalled at $88.6 million domestically, and its co-writer-star Jason Segel wasn’t involved in Most Wanted.) Jim Henson’s beloved characters have a long and troubled big-screen history, stretching back to 1979′s The Muppet Movie; 2011′s The Muppets is the highest grosser in the series, while the 1999 flop Muppets From Space marks the group’s low point, with a $16.6 million total.
Part of the Muppets’ problem might’ve been the holdover success of Mr. Peabody and Sherman (also featuring the voice of Ty Burrell), which offered stiff competition for family audiences and came in third with $11.7 million. Now in its third weekend, the DreamWorks Animation adventure has drawn up $81 million and is a likely candidate for a sequel. In fourth place, the R-rated 300: Rise of an Empire slayed another $8.7 million in ticket receipts, lifting its cumulative gross to $93.8 million.
The biggest surprise of the weekend is undoubtedly the success of God’s Not Dead, an inspirational drama about a college student who defends his belief in God against a non-believing professor. With no marquee stars (Kevin Sorbo and Dean Cain appear in the film, as does Duck Dynasty star Willie Robertson) and little mainstream press, the film earned $8.6 million from just 780 theaters.The Freestyle Releasing title benefited from a highly specific marketing plan that involved drumming up social buzz (the film has over 1 million likes on Facebook) and partnering with the Christian music festival Winter Jam to raise awareness in its target audience. 2014 is shaping up to be a bellwether year for faith-based films: Last month, the religious-themed Son of God opened to an impressive $25.6 million, while Darren Aronofsky’s biblical opus Noah hits theaters next weekend amid a swirl of controversy.
Here’s how the top five played out:
1. Divergent – $56 million
2. Muppets Most Wanted – $16.5 million
3. Mr. Peabody and Sherman – $11.7 million
4. 300: Rise of an Empire – $8.7 million
5. God’s Not Dead – $8.6 million
In limited release, The Grand Budapest Hotel welcomed $7 million worth of new sales thanks to an expansion from 66 to 304 theaters. With a $13.2 million total in its third week of release, the whimsical dramedy is already hot on the heels of director Wes Anderson’s biggest hits, Moonrise Kingdom (final gross: $45.5 million) and 2001′s The Royal Tenenbaums ($52.4 million).