Box Office: 'Divergent' Breaks YA Curse With $56 Million Debut; 'Muppets 2' Bombs

Summit Entertainment's Divergent may not have reached the heights of Twilight or The Hunger Games, but its $56 million North American box office broke the curse that has plagued every other YA film adaptation.

Launching a new franchise for Summit and parent company Lionsgate, the dystopian sci-fi adventure benefited from good word of mouth among moviegoers, who gave it an A CinemaScore despite mostly withering reviews.

As expected, females made up the majority of the audience (69 percent). Half of the audience was over the age of 25, easing concerns that Divergent would only have appeal among younger demos. And the movie did big business in male-driven Imax and Premium Large Format theaters, which took in a combined $9.3 million, or 16.7 percent of the overall gross.

Divergent -- starring Shailene Woodley in the title role -- is directed by Neil Burger and based on the best-selling book series by Veronica Roth about a young woman who poses a threat to society after failing to fit into one of five strictly controlled factions. The film, which cost $85 million to make, doesn't begin rolling out overseas in earnest until April 4.

"This opened exactly where we needed it to be to launch a new franchise," said Summit/Lionsgate distribution chief Richie Fay.

Interestingly, only 50 percent of ticket buyers had read the book, compared to 74 percent for Twilight and 76 percent for The Hunger Games.

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Summit is certainly well versed in selling YA adaptations, being the home of the Twilight franchise. And its parent company, Lionsgate, is the studio behind Hunger Games. Summit begins production on Insurgent, the sequel to Divergent, in May. It hits theaters March 20, 2015.

In November 2008, the first Twilight debuted domestically to $69.6 million; four years later, Hunger Games opened to a massive $152.5 million, one of the biggest openings of all time. All other YA film adaptations have failed to make their mark at the box office, including The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, Warm Bodies and Beautiful Creatures.

Divergent also stars Theo James, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoe Kravitz, Miles Teller, Tony Goldwyn, Ansel Elgort, Maggie Q, Mekhi Phifer and Kate Winslet.

Among the weekend's other new offerings, Disney's Muppets Most Wanted was a dud in its opening weekend, thanks in part to a saturated market for family titles.

The sequel, facing competition from holdovers Mr. Peabody & Sherman and The Lego Movie, opened to $16.5 million in North America to come in No. 2, compared to a $41 million launch for The Muppets over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2011, including $29 million for the weekend. Nevertheless, Disney's financial exposure is limited, thanks to a reasonable $54 million budget.

And Muppets Most Wanted could make up ground overseas. It opened in its first eight markets over the weekend, grossing $1.5 million.

James Bobin returns to direct the Muppets sequel, with Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell and Tina Fey replacing Jason Segel and Amy Adams as the live-action leads. This time out, Kermit and the gang find themselves lured into an international crime caper while on tour in Europe. Muppets Most Wanted has earned solid-to-good reviews, compared to stellar notices for The Muppets. Audiences gave the movie a B+ CinemaScore.

Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis said the opening was "definitely disappointing," considering that prerelease tracking suggested Muppets Most Wanted had every shot at opening north of $20 million. However, he said there was never a comparison between the first film and the sequel, since Thanksgiving is a concentrated time for family moviegoing. "They are totally different propositions," he said.

Hollis said Muppets Most Wanted should enjoy strong business in the coming days because of spring break.

Also opening nationwide, although on a much smaller scale, was Christian drama God's Not Dead. From Pure Flix Entertainment, the movie came in a strong No. 5 with $8.6 million from 780 locations across the country, putting it on par with such films as Fireproof and Courageous.

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Based on the book of the same name by Rice Broocks, and Daniel Bashta's song "Like a Lion," God's Not Dead stars Shane Harper as a college student whose philosophy professor forces him to sign a declaration that "God is dead." When the student refuses, he's ordered to prove his position that God exists in a series of debates. Directed by Harold Cronk, the indie movie also stars Kevin Sorbo, Jim Gleason, David A.R. White and Dean Cain.

“We couldn’t be happier with the huge support God's Not Dead has experienced in our opening weekend. On such few screens to compete so strongly on a national platform says so much about the film, the filmmakers, and the target audience who love this movie. We plan to expand next week to reach out to the tens of thousands demanding to see God's Not Dead in their city," said Mark Borde, co-president of Freestyle Releasing, which handles the film on behalf of Pure Flix.

Another film with biblical themes, Darren Aronofsky's event movie Noah, opened in its first two markets to impressive results. The Paramount and New Regency title grossed $14 million in Mexico and South Korea, where it bowed a week ahead of its launch in North America and another 20 foreign markets. Noah is pacing just ahead of Gravity.

Fox Animation and Blue Sky's Rio 2 is also opening early overseas to strong numbers. The sequel, which doesn't debut in the U.S. until April 11, grossed $10.4 million over the weekend in Russia and Ukraine despite political unrest over the annexation of Crimea.

Winning the weekend at the international box office was DreamWorks and Disney's Aaron Paul racing movie Need for Speed. The action film grossed a strong $29.2 million from 55 markets, pushing its foreign total to a pleasing $93.8 million (Mister Smith Entertainment is splitting international duties with Disney).

Domestically, Need for Speed is doing less business, earning $7.8 million in its second weekend for a total $30.4 million and coming in No. 6. Worldwide, the movie has earned $126.5 million.

Among other holdovers, Peabody, from DreamWorks Animation and Fox, came in No. 3 in its third weekend with $11.7 million for a domestic total of $81 million. Internationally, the 3D animated movie crossed the $100 million mark, grossing $11.4 million for the weekend from 64 markets for a foreign cume of $102.8 million and global total of $183.8 million.

300: Rise of An Empire remained in the top five in its third weekend, placing No. 4 with $8.7 million for a domestic cume of $93.8 million. Overseas, the Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures title took in another $21 million from 63 markets for a foreign total of $195.4 million and global cume of $289.2 million.

Placing No. 7 in North America was Wes Anderson's box-office hit The Grand Budapest Hotel, which expanded into a total of 304 locations in its third outing. The film grossed a stellar $6.8 million, and once again nabbed the top location average of the weekend with $22,204. Grand Budapest, which will expand into additional markets next weekend, has earned a total of $13.2 million for Fox Searchlight.

Grand Budapest is also prospering overseas, where it took in $9.6 million from 24 markets for an international total of $33 million and world cume of $46.3 million.

At the specialty box office, Lars von Trier's unrated sexual opus Nymphomaniac: Volume I failed to arouse, opening to roughly $175,000 from 22 locations for a location average of $7,000, behind his previous films, Melancholia and Antichrist. Magnolia made the movie available first on VOD.

Anita Hill documentary Anita opened in seven theaters in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco to $44,382 for a location average of $6,340. Samuel Goldwyn Films is releasing the movie in the U.S.

Bad Words, directed by and starring Jason Bateman, struggled as it expanded into a total of 87 theaters in its second weekend, grossing $500,000 for a location average of $5,747 and cume of $655,773 for Focus Features.

Here are the top 10 estimates for the weekend of March 21-22 at the domestic box office:

Title, Weeks in Release/Theater Count, Studio, Weekend Total, Percentage Drop, Cume

1. Divergent, 1/3,936, Lionsgate/Summit, $56 million.

2. Muppets Most Wanted, 1/3,194, Disney, $16.5 million.

3. Mr. Peabody & Sherman, 3/3,607, Fox/DreamWorks Animation, $11.7 million, -46%, $81 million.

4. 300: Rise of an Empire, 3/3,085, Warner Bros./Legendary, $8.7 million, -55%, $93.8 million.

5. God's Not Dead, 1/780, Freestyle, $8.6 million.

6. Need for Speed, 2/3,115, Disney/DreamWorks, $7.8 million, -56%, $30.4 million.

7. The Grand Budapest Hotel, 3/304, Fox Searchlight, $6.8 million, +92%, $13.2 million.

8. Non-Stop, 4/2,945, Universal, $6.3 million, -40%, $78.6 million.

9. The Lego Movie, 7/2,501, Warner Bros./Village Roadshow, $4.1 million, -47%, $243.4 million.

10. The Single Moms Club, 2/1,896, Lionsgate, $3.1 million, -62%, $12.9 million.

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