Weekend Wrap-Up
Divergent Rises While Muppets Fall
By John Hamann
March 23, 2014

Tell Scarlett Johansson and Jennifer Lawrence that they have to let me in the club!

God may or may not be dead, but The Muppets are certainly in trouble at the box office this weekend.

$69 million. That’s the number I want you to remember. That’s the amount the original Twilight opened to in 2008. What came between means nothing. Divergent, the hot, new YA property opened this weekend, looking for an original Twilight-style opening. On top of that, The Muppets are back, looking to find the magic that got the reboot to open to $29 million a couple of years ago. Instead, the discussion this weekend will be that two films featuring the word God are in the top 12, that Noah is coming next weekend, and yet the faith-based crowd is still under-served.

Our number one film at the box office this weekend is Divergent, the much hyped franchise hopeful for Lionsgate, and a bellwether for their stock price. Based on the 2011 Veronica Roth young adult novel, Lionsgate was looking to manufacture a new Twilight/Hunger Games franchise. The goal for the weekend was to open in the area of Twilight ($69.8 million), the film that started the YA movement (anybody comparing this to The Hunger Games should have their head checked). After getting off to a strong start on Thursday night with a gross of $4.9 million, an opening in the $60 million range was possible, but in order for that to happen, the film would need those legions of Twi-hards to show up over the Friday-to-Sunday portion of the weekend. The Lionsgate stock fell $2.35 or 8% after the Thursday night number was reported, as investors might have been spooked by the lower-than-expected number. If they were using Twilight as their basis of comparison, the vampire film did $7 million from midnight previews in 2008.

The Friday box office number was reported at $22.8 million, and if that was true Friday number, would likely be enough to get Divergent to open where Lionsgate wanted it to, in the high 60s. However, in these days of Thursday night previews, we have to remove the $4.9 million from the $22.8 million figure, leaving a true Friday take of $17.9 million. While still strong, it is not enough to propel Divergent ahead of the first Twilight. As stated, Twilight did $7 million in midnight showings – not "Thursday night screenings" - and had a true Friday of $29 million, numbers that were significantly stronger than those of Divergent, despite opening in November 2008.

Following that somewhat disappointing Friday, Divergent now had to deal with the rest of the weekend and a concern about further wilting returns. When Twilight opened, its strongest day by far was Friday night at $29 million. It then dipped to $21 million Saturday and plummeted on Sunday to $12.4 million. With Divergent, a somewhat similar scenario ensued, though the new film's Saturday was stronger. The Neil Burger film followed its decent Friday with a $19.7 million Saturday gross and an estimated $13.6 million on Sunday. That puts the weekend figure for Divergent at $56 million from 3,936 venues. The opening for this one becomes neither a success story nor a failure. Instead, it is something that is even worse in today’s movie business: a movie that failed to meet expectations. Tracking for Divergent was calling for a $60 million plus opening, and Lionsgate stockholders were looking for the almost $70 million open that Twilight saw. This debut is certainly enough to keep this franchise going forward (Insurgent begins filming in May), but not enough to create a buzz to make the second film explode, like The Twilight Saga: New Moon, or The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Lionsgate spent too much time “making” success for Divergent, and they forgot they need to “find” success.

Why did Divergent open more like Scooby-Doo ($54.2 million) and less like Twilight, which when adjusting for inflation opened to $81 million? My impression is that anyone outside of the target audience didn’t buy a ticket for Divergent. I would estimate that theaters were packed with teenagers, but anyone above the drinking age was at home (they certainly weren’t at the second Muppets film – no one was). Reviews were not great, which killed word of mouth. At Rotten Tomatoes, Divergent captured 132 reviews, and of those, only 53 were positive, leading to a rotten rating of 40%. Not only were reviews tepid, the look and feel of the marketing seemed to exclude adults, as the only actor most adults recognized was Kate Winslet, who was barely featured in the marketing materials, and she's only there as the villain. We went to the first Hunger Games because Woody Harrelson was in it, and we could connect with him.

The good news for Lionsgate is that the target audience liked what they saw, as Divergent did manage an A Cinemascore, albeit from teen girls that attended opening nights with their signed hardcopy of the book clutched in their anticipatory arms. They could have switched the print with God’s Not Dead and still got an A. Divergent cost $80 million to make, which isn’t a stupid amount, but one where you need to provide your film with strong scheduling. That didn’t happen with Divergent, as it will get creamed by Noah next weekend, and then bashed the weekend after when Captain America: The Winter Soldier shows up. Lionsgate will be lucky to pull $125 million from this one stateside, so it will need to earn at least $110 million overseas to find a profit. These numbers are doable, but at the end of the day, they are clearly disappointing, no matter how you slice it.

Finishing second this weekend is our next disappointment, Muppets Most Wanted. Cast as a $20 million plus opener, the sequel to the 2011 reboot did not come close to expectations or the original. Muppets Most Wanted got started on Friday, earning only $4.7 million, or about $7.5 million less than the first Friday for the reboot, which opened on a Wednesday. The weekend result was $16.5 million, a number much lower than tracking was expecting. Disney put the sequel out 3,194 screens, and ended the weekend with a venue average of $5,170. It had a weekend multiplier of 3.5, which tells us that families were the big audience for this one rather than the all-ages crowd attracted by The Muppets.

This time out, instead of a sing along about re-discovering Muppet Magic with Amy Adams and Jason Segel, we got a slapstick comedy featuring a Kermit lookalike and a Miss Piggy duet with creature of the night Celine Dion. While the comedians involved are of the highest variety (Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell), the "niceness" of the first one seemed to be gone. Adults were no longer rediscovering their youth, and I believe that’s the difference in the opening weekends. Muppets Most Wanted received okay reviews – 77% fresh at RottenTomatoes – but nowhere near the love letters received for the reboot, which came in at 96% fresh.

The problem now for Disney is legs and lack of international support. The rebooted Muppet Movie had an opening-to-total multiplier of only 3.0. I say "only" because The Muppets was supposed to be kids movie, where legs are almost guaranteed. For example, The Nut Job and its 11% fresh rating had an opening-to-total multiplier of 3.2, better than the 96% fresh Muppet reboot. Given small numbers through the opening, the multiplier for the sequel may grow, but likely not much. This one cost $50 million to make, with a lot more coming on the marketing side. That means Muppets Most Wanted needs $150 million worldwide, where the reboot went against the grain, earning more domestically ($88.6 million) than it did overseas ($76.5 million).

Finishing third is Mr. Peabody & Sherman, last weekend’s number one film. Even though The Muppets didn’t overwhelm, the animated Fox property still suffered, earning $11.7 million this weekend and dropping a large 46%. The $145 million animated feature now has a gross of $81 million, and while it will make it to $100 million, it will not meet its production budget stateside. With the huge $145 million budget, it needs to do big business overseas, and that is also going to be a stretch, as it currently sits with $85 million from international venues.

Fourth is 300: Rise of an Empire. The Warner Bros. sequel also got dumped this weekend, as after a weekend where it earned $19.2 million, this weekend it earns only $8.7 million, good for a drop of 55%. Like Mr. Peabody and Sherman, Rise of an Empire will make it to $100 million, but the cost here was $110 million, a number it might reach after everything is said and done. It has earned a somewhat disappointing $93.8 million stateside so far. The good news here is that overseas numbers are strong, with $195 million counted so far from overseas sales.

God’s Not Dead is fifth. The hadn’t-heard-of-it-before, faith-based release, starring Kevin Sorbo and Dean Cain (Kirk Cameron must be off coveting somewhere), earned $8.6 million from 780 screens, giving it an average of $10,979. It won’t need Noah’s flood next weekend to wipe it out of the top ten.

That puts Need for Speed down to sixth this weekend. After opening to $17.8 million last weekend, Need for Speed followed the expected trend this weekend, as college hoops or a fear of teen girls seem to have decimated the box office. Need for Speed could only find $7.8 million this frame, which means it lost 56% of its audience compared to last weekend. Thankfully for Disney, Need for Speed is sitting with $96 million earned from overseas venues, which will put the studio in a good position to pick up the $66 million production budget and marketing spend. Stateside, Need for Speed has earned $30.4 million.

Seventh goes to The Grand Budapest Hotel, which has been setting limited release records and is still out to only 304 venues. From that handful of screens, the Wes Anderson release scored, earning another $6.8 million. It earned $3.8 million last weekend from 66 screens, so it lifts its gross by 86% this weekend. It also had a sizzling venue average of $22,204 – the best in the top ten. Despite to being out to so few venues, The Grand Budapest Hotel has already earned $13 million stateside, and over $20 million from overseas theaters.

Eighth is Non-Stop, which is now in its fourth weekend. The Liam Neeson actioner earned another $6.3 million this weekend, and declined 40%. The $50 million Universal release has now earned $78.6 million stateside, and another $63 million overseas.

Ninth goes to The LEGO Movie, as it starts to run out of gas. This weekend, the little LEGO movie that could earned another $4.1 million, dropping 47%. The LEGO Movie has now earned $243.4 million domestically and more than $145 million overseas, all against a budget of only $60 million. This was the tone that Muppets Most Wanted needed to strive for.

Sadly, Frozen is no longer a top ten film, so Tyler Perry’s Single Mom’s Club is tenth. After opening to $8 million last weekend, this one falls drastically. It earned only $3.1 million, giving it a drop of 62%. Single Mom’s Club has now earned only $12.9 million, and will be the blot on Tyler Perry’s resume.

A year ago, the top 12 earned $130 million, thanks to decent opens from The Croods ($43.6 million) and Olympus Has Fallen ($30.4 million). A weekend ago, I would have laughed if you said that Divergent and Muppets Most Wanted would gross less than the top two last year, but that’s exactly what happened. The top 12 this weekend brings in $133.1 million, so instead of an exciting frame, we are left with one that is virtually identical to the previous year in terms of earnings.

Next weekend, Russell Crowe and Noah should bring the excitement, as the Darren Aronofsky film debuts on 3,400+ screens. Noah is already getting decent reviews, and should do well with faith based and non-faith based audiences alike. It is joined by the latest Arnold Schwarzenegger comeback attempt, Sabotage, and Cesar Chavez, the biopic about the boxer and social activist, which will be released in 600 locations but comes from Pantelion films, which has had success reaching Latino audiences recently.