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'Noah' bows in with impressive weekend opening

russell crowe as noah ap.jpg

Russell Crowe in a scene from "Noah." (The Associated Press)

The Biblical blockbuster “Noah” has turned the box office tide in its favor reports Variety.

Paramount-New Regency’s Russell Crowe-starrer ruled the seas on Friday with a $15.2 million debut, on track for an opening weekend in the $41 to $43 million range (bolder estimates are as high as $45 million). The drama drew $1.6 million from late-night Thursday showings.

Last week’s winner, Lionsgate-Summit’s YA adaptation “Divergent,” came in at a distant second with $8.1 million, headed toward a $25.3 million second frame (down 54%).

Newcomers “Sabotage” and “Cesar Chavez” didn’t crack the top five on Friday. Open Road’s Arnold Schwarzenegger actioner “Sabotag brought in a disappointing $1.8 million from 2,486 locations. The thriller, which could have suffered from poor reviews (21% rating on Rotten Tomatoes), is headed toward a $5.3 million three-day finish and the actor’s worst opening in almost three decades.

Schwarzenegger’s last two films, “The Last Stand” ($12 million) and “Escape Plan” ($25 million), flopped Stateside in 2013. His action star power seems to be fading post-governorship, although he’s still a draw internationally (“Escape Plan” hauled $137 million worldwide).

Meanwhile, Lionsgate-Pantelion’s “Cesar Chavez” earned $1 million Friday, placing in 11th and marching toward a $3.2 million launch. Lionsgate’s Hispanic-targeted label used a grassroots marketing campaign at political rallies for the Participant Media film. Spanish-dubbed or subtitled versions of the movie (39% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) are available at all 664 locations.

“Noah,” Darren Aronofsky’s $125 million epic, looks to be benefiting from the controversy it’s generated in recent months. The movie, which has an environmental component, has come under fire from Christian groups for deviating too drastically from the Old Testament story. Paramount has changed its marketing materials to note that the film is not a direct retelling of the story of Noah’s Ark.

The audience at its 3,936 theaters were evenly split between males and females, but skewed older as 74% were 25 and over.

Although the studio has taken a broad marketing approach, it stands to benefit from also having reached out to religious groups, who have been flooding theaters of late. Another faith-based pic, Freestyle Releasing’s “God’s Not Dead” opened to a surprise third place Stateside last Friday. Having added 362 locations this week, the pic earned almost $2.35 million yesterday (down 35%) — a per screen average of $1,944. It came in sixth, slightly trailing “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

The drama stars Shane Harper and Kevin Sorbo. It also includes cameos from “Duck Dynasty’s” Willie and Korie Robertson.

Underserved faith-based audiences also praised Fox’s “Son of God” when it opened in theaters to an impressive $26 million earlier this month. The film, based on the five-part History Channel miniseries from producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, benefited from an aggressive grassroots marketing campaign targeting Christian and Jewish groups. It earned $255,000 on Friday.

“Noah” had impressive openings in foreign markets last weekend. While it’s on par with “Gravity” in Mexico and South Korea, earnings are 20% higher than the Oscar-winning space pic in Australia. The tentpole, which bowed in Russia on Thursday to $2.6 million — the nation’s fourth highest grossing nonholiday opening day — expands to 19 more territories this weekend. It earned $28.3 million internationally through Friday.

Aside from Crowe, it also stars Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson.

Holdovers dominated the Friday B.O. “Divergent,” down 54% from last weekend’s launch, made $8.1 million Friday. The sci-fi adventure — starring Shailene Woodley and based on Veronica Roth’s best-selling series — is on track for a domestic cume of $94 million after 10 days.

Disney’s “Muppets Most Wanted” is picking up steam in its second weekend after opening to a soft $17 million. “Muppets” earned $2.6 million on Friday for a third place finish, en route to a $9 million weekend.

Fox Searchlight’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is wowing again this weekend as it expands to 977 theaters. The Wes Anderson dramedy came in fourth Friday with almost $2.37 million. The movie is estimated to make $8.4 million this weekend, pushing its Stateside total to $24 million.
Fox-DreamWorks Animation’s “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” is still drawing audiences in its fourth frame. The canine toon cracked the top five with $2.2 million on Friday and could make an estimated $9.5 million by Sunday, bringing its domestic gross to $95 million.

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