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Box office report: 'Divergent' heads straight for $56 million win; 'God's Not Dead' inspires $8.6 million

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.)

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Box office update: 'Divergent' earns $22.8 million on Friday

Divergent, the big-screen adaptation of Veronica Roth’s hit YA sci-fi book series, had no trouble setting itself apart at theaters on Friday, grossing an estimated $22.8 million. That’s the largest single-day haul at the box office since The LEGO Movie, which made $30.8 million on its first Saturday in February.  Divergent also collected $4.9 million at midnight shows on Thursday, bringing its total to $27.7 million before the weekend officially even begins. For comparison, The Hunger Games, the first chapter of the current gold-standard YA franchise, earned $67.3 million on its first Friday in March, 2012 on its way to a $152.5 million weekend. Divergent, which reportedly cost $85 million to produce, could reach as high as $60 million by the end of the weekend for a decisive win.

In second place, Muppets Most Wanted grossed $4.7 million on Friday. The caper comedy, starring Tina Fey, Ty Burrell, and Ricky Gervais alongside Jim Henson’s legendary puppets, marks the Muppets’ eighth big-screen adventure and their first since 2011’s reboot The Muppets. That version, scripted by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, earned $12.1 million on its first Friday and eventual achieved an $88.6 million cumulative gross. Muppets Most Wanted should perform well with families this weekend, and could take in more than $20 million by Sunday night.

In a surprise showing, the inspirational drama God’s Not Dead, distributed by Freestyle Releasing, came in third place with $2.8 million on Friday. The low-budget independent film, which tells the story of a college student who challenges a professor’s belief that God doesn’t exist, played in just 780 theaters, and could earn as much as $8 million in its first weekend.

In fourth place, the animated adventure Mr. Peabody and Sherman earned $2.7 million for a $72 million total gross after 15 days. And in fifth place, 300: Rise of an Empire conquered another $2.4 million on Friday, bringing its total $87 million. Expanding to 304 theaters, Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel continued to ride a wave of critical acclaim to an estimated $1.8 million Friday take.

1. Divergent – $22.8 million
2. Muppets Most Wanted – $4.7 million
3. God’s Not Dead – $2.8 million
4. Mr. Peabody and Sherman – $2.7 million
5. 300: Rise of an Empire – $2.4 million

Box office preview: 'Divergent' faces off against 'Muppets Most Wanted'

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The 2014 box office, already up 8 percent from last year, is heating up as Divergent stares down Muppets Most Wanted, both of which open in over 3,000 theaters this weekend. But, the YA adaptation looks to be the clear frontrunner and it would not surprise if it doubled the Muppets’ opening returns.

Divergent is one of the first big-budget films of 2014 to target a primarily female audience after weeks of expensive, male-targeted fare. The interest seems to be there for a big opening weekend, too. Beyond the popularity of the books, Fandango is reporting that Divergent accounts for more than 80 percent of its pre-sales. But, it also has a lot to live up to thanks to the unrealistic precedents set by franchises like The Hunger Games and Twilight, where anything under a $70 million opening could be seen as a disappointment.

Here’s how things might play out:

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'Veronica Mars' opens to $2 million; conversation about future plans and a possible sequel could happen soon

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The Marshmallows turned out in droves this weekend to check out the theatrical debut of Veronica Mars. The Kickstarter-funded, cult TV show adaptation opened to a cool $2 million from 291 theaters (265 in the U.S.), earning the pic a spot on the top 10 according, to initial estimates.

The PG-13 pic was also released simultaneously on VOD — free for Kickstarter backers who’d contributed $35 or more to the record-breaking campaign, but also available for purchase or rental through digital download services such as iTunes or Amazon. The industry has not gotten into a mode where they share VOD earnings, but the multi-platform availability clearly did not dissuade fans from making the trek to the theaters.

But, is it a success?

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Box office report: 'Mr. Peabody and Sherman' beats 'Need for Speed' to finish line with $21.2 million; Tyler Perry flops

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It was not a good weekend to be a new movie in wide release at the box office. The world’s smartest animated dog took the lead  this weekend and left Need for Speed in the dust, while Tyler Perry’s The Single Mom’s Club missed the mark and now has the dubious honor of being his lowest opening ever.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman came out on top in its second weekend in theaters with $21.2 million from 3,951 locations. The $145 million DreamWorks Animation pic dropped 34.2 percent from last week’s opening, putting its domestic total at $63.2 million. The real test will be how it stands up to Muppets Most Wanted next weekend — its first real new competition. That could be an indicator of its longterm theatrical legs.

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Box office update: 'Need for Speed' takes the lead on Friday with $6.6 million, 'Veronica Mars' debuts at $1 million

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Need for Speed kicked into high gear on Friday and opened on top with an estimated $6.64 million, but the weekend winner is still undetermined. Last weekend’s top earners, 300: Rise of an Empire and Mr. Peabody and Sherman, are trailing close behind the Aaron Paul pic, and any are fair game for first place based on Friday estimates.

Adapted from the popular EA video game, Need for Speed may not even pass $20 million this weekend. Initial estimates put the car pic in the mid- to high-$20s range, but based on the soft Friday opening, that’s looking unlikely. With an estimated $65 million price tag, a mid-$20s opening was key. This could signal that it’s not actually a potential franchise for DreamWorks and distributor Disney.

EW’s Keith Staskiewicz noted the trend of failed video game adaptations in his C review, writing: Need for Speed is just another pileup in Hollywood’s long accident report of taking games from the couch to the theater seat.” On the whole, reviews have been somewhat dismal, but audiences might disagree. It may be currently hovering around 23% on Rotten Tomatoes, but Friday theater goers gave it a B+ Cinema Score.

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Box office preview: 'Need for Speed' revs up for No. 1

It’s another testosterone-driven weekend at the multiplexes as the video game-turned-movie Need for Speed faces off against last week’s reigning box office conqueror 300: Rise of an Empire.

The question is whether or not Aaron Paul, beloved as the tragic Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad, can carry a movie. The idea of a star-driven film is a bit of an outdated mentality, but choosing Paul to lead a fairly expensive action pic was at turns unconventional and bold. It’s also a lot of pressure, especially if DreamWorks and EA are eyeing a potential franchise in the vein of the insanely successful Fast & Furious films.

Tyler Perry’s The Single Moms Club also opens in under 2,000 locations for Lionsgate and the female-driven pic hopes to reach a very different audience, but it’s unlikely to beat the 3-D cars to the finish line.

Here’s how things might play out.

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How the Oscars affected the weekend box office numbers

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Moviegoers want sure bets. Tickets are expensive, theaters can be a hassle, and time is precious. So while some eager types may turn out in droves after a film is nominated for an Academy Award, nine Best Picture nominees can prove a daunting to-do list, and some might want to wait for the slate to be whittled down. That seemed to be the case this weekend, at least, when Best Picture winner 12 Years a Slave more than doubled its theater count and boasted a 116 percent increase in earnings.

There are a lot of factors that make analysis tricky in this case. Still, the numbers paint an interesting picture on their own. A certain amount of increased awareness post-Oscars can be assumed, after all. Also, many of the winners have been available on DVD and VOD for some time, implying that there is a solid theatrical draw for prestige award-winners. Let’s take a look at the weekend’s results. READ FULL STORY

Box office report: '300: Rise of an Empire' conquers the weekend with $45 million; 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' sets record

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300: Rise of an Empire speared its competition and kept on raking in the dollars on its opening weekend.

Warner Bros. and Legendary’s hyper-stylized 3-D sequel earned an estimated $45 million from 3,470 theaters. Despite lackluster reviews, audiences turned out in droves to watch Eva Green’s Atremisia and the rest of the scantily clad warriors take to the sea for battle in the $108 million pic. Smart People director Noam Murro took the helm from Zack Snyder this time around — though Snyder produced and wrote the film. Audiences (62 percent male) slapped the epic with a B Cinema Score.

The lure of IMAX helped. The 342 IMAX screens brought in $6.8 million (or 15 percent) of the film’s weekend earnings, while 3-D showings accounted for 63 percent of the grosses. 300: Rise of an Empire is also performing quite well internationally with $87.8 million from 58 markets. Still, it doesn’t even come close to Zack Snyder’s $70 million March 2007 opening for 300. Nevertheless, the sequel should enjoy a healthy box office life.

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Box office update: '300: Rise of an Empire' obliterates competition with a $17.7 million Friday

Not even the world’s smartest time-traveling dog could beat the warriors of 300: Rise of an Empire at the box office, Friday.

The Zack Snyder-produced sequel to his 2007 blockbuster earned an impressive $17.7 million from 3,470 theaters. Thursday night the R-rated Warner Bros. and Legendary pic had brought in a decent $3.3 million from early showings. With a $108 million price tag, the Eva Green and Sullivan Stapleton-led epic should still net around $45 million this weekend — right on track with predictions.

DreamWorks Animation’s Mr. Peabody and Sherman claimed the second place spot with an $8 million Friday from 3,934 theaters. The $145 million, PG-rated family romp seems to be connecting well with audiences who gave it an A Cinema Score. It should earn around $30 million by the time the weekend closes out.

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