For the first time since before Thanksgiving, box office revenues for a weekend will fall short of last year. Darren Aronofsky's "Noah" (Paramount) will dominate the top 10, with Friday's take at $15,238,000 (including Thursday evening shows). With the only other wide opener "Sabotage" (Open Road) at #7 with $1,825,000, grosses were down 30% from the same Friday in 2013.
At $125 million, "Noah" is an expensive risk for Paramount, and its poor CinemaScore, C, suggests initial audience disappointment (not the final word -- "The Wolf of Wall Street" got the same result, although it benefited from passionate support and awards attention.) Its domestic fate won't be certain until next weekend, but based on initial results, it looks unlikely to amass much above $100 million (assuming word of mouth is consistent with the C score).
Meanwhile, the initial foreign results are considerably better. With 19 new markets added to last week's Mexican and Korean returns, the international total is already at $28.3 million. The studio reports the total gross for those countries was ahead of the first day take for "Inception" (5%) and "Gravity" (45%), suggesting a significantly brighter future ahead, not surprising given Russell Crowe's continued appeal and the epic nature of the film (more easily sold worldwide). Whether the film sustains its foreign success will ultimately determine its fate, which has been true quite often recently as the studios strive for the widest potential appeal -- in this case, with a film directed by someone not previously identified with blockbuster sensibility, though Aronofsky's "Black Swan" amassed over $300 million worldwide.
Last weekend's #1, "Divergent" (Lionsgate), came in at #2 with $8.1 million, with the weekend likely to be down somewhat more than 50% from its opening. That would be a better hold than either "Hunger Games" entry, but both those films were massively better from the get-go, making this drop more worrisome for the launch of a long-term franchise. #3 "Muppets Most Wanted" (Buena Vista) at $2.6 million held up better, though again from a disappointing start.
The relative weakness of the overall Top 10 allowed for two more niche/limited films to place 4 and 5 for the day (though their placement likely shifts for the full weekend). Wes Anderson's "The Grand Budapest Hotel" (Fox Searchlight) took in $2,375,000 in 977 theaters, while the sleeper fundamentalist Christian hit "God's Not Dead" (Freestyle) was nearly as good with $2,353,000 in 1,178 theaters.
Likely rising with matinees will be "Mr. Peabody an Sherman" (20th Century Fox), with $2.2 million for Friday. Behind Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Sabotage," his weakest wide opener ever, all at around $1.2 million, are holdovers "Non-Stop" (Universal), "Need for Speed" (Buena Vista) and "300: Rise of an Empire" (Warner Bros.) between 8th and 10th place.
At just under the Top 10, with around $1 million, is "Cesar Chavez" (Lionsgate/Pantelion) in only 664 theaters. Focus' expansion of "Bad Words" grossed a bit under $800,000 in 842 theaters, continuing its modest returns so far. The best of the limited openers was "The Raid 2" (Sony Pictures Classics) with $64,000 in 7, ahead of the opening the day for "The Raid: Redemption" two years ago.