By Tom Brueggemann | Thompson on Hollywood March 23, 2014 at 1:44PM
Dystopian romance "Divergent" dominated the box office this weekend. The latest movie based on a young adult book series launched a new franchise for Lionsgate/Summit--the sequel "Insurgent" starts production in May. "Divergent" boosted overall Top 10 grosses to $130 million, just enough for the 17th consecutive weekend to outperform the previous year. It could be a record.
And yet the rest of the uneven field saw disappointing returns, including the most recent "Muppets" movie from Disney. But despite some weakness among the rest of the studio films in the Top 10, a couple niche films -- "God's Not Dead" from a Southern Christian production company and Fox Searchlight's "The Grand Budapest Hotel"-- showed significant strength from disparate audiences.
Two films fell off the charts -- "Frozen" finally hit DVD (with huge sales), and Video on Demand-available "Veronica Mars" (Warner Bros.) collapsed as it added new theaters.
1. "Divergent" (Lionsgate) NEW - Cinemascore: A; Criticwire:; Metacritic:
$56,000,000 in 3,936 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $14,228; Cumulative: $56,000,000
The now-merged Lionsgate and Summit have overseen the massive late teen and young adult "Twilight" and "Hunger Games" series, and now have found another franchise from a series of novels featuring a young female character who doesn't fit into a future society (with Shailene Woodley in a similar Jennifer Lawrence role). Also playing largely to women thanks to Woodley --and hearthrob Theo James-- the initial take is nowhere near the first series entries of those earlier films. But with an economic $85-million budget, upbeat initial audience response (A Cinemascore) and international yet to open, this is a promising start based on strong marketing. At the least, it's more than double Summit's last attempt at a new series -- "Enders Game" -- achieved. What makes the initial numbers more impressive is that these books were not as widely read.
"Divergent" comes from veteran producers (and married couple) Lucy Fisher and Doug Wick, who staged a big comeback last year with "The Great Gatsby" after an earlier series of mid-level hits including "Memoirs of a Geisha," "Peter Pan" and "Jarhead." Before joining together, they both had major success, Fisher as a studio head of production, Wick as a producer including the Oscar-winning "Gladiator." They have been late to the franchise game though, with this set to be a main focus going forward (Lionsgate has announced that "Insurgent," the sequel, will be released exactly a year from now). Director Neil Burger has tasted previous success, though at a lower level, with "The Illusionist" and "Limitless." For up-and-comer Woodley, this verifies high expectations after "The Descendants" and last year's "The Spectacular Now" -- she's no Lawrence, but this positions her as an alternative go-to young actress.
What comes next: This might battle "Noah" for the top spot next week if it has a strong hold, but in the meantime looks like it has a chance to reach a respectable $150 million or so domestic take, good enough to become a mid-level franchise going forward.
2. "Muppets Most Wanted" (Buena Vista) NEW - Cinemascore: B+; Criticwire:B+; Metacritic: 61
$16,514,000 in 3,194 theaters; PSA: $5,170; Cumulative: $16,514,000
A disappointing result so far, this second entry in the reboot of the "Muppets" movie franchise (#8 overall since the initial 1979 Jim Henson-directed effort) grossed only just over half of what the series reboot managed ($29 million on its way to $88 million domestic). In an extended season when "Frozen" and "The Lego Movie" were the leaders in a strong group of family-oriented films, this grossed even less than the less well known Rocky and Bullwinkle characters featured in "Mr. Peabody and Sherman," surprising since films like this should be in Disney's wheelhouse for easy success.