Box-Office Preview: 'Girl on the Train' Set to Blast Past 'Birth of a Nation'

Screengrab/Universal Pictures
Emily Blunt in 'The Girl on the Train'

'The Birth of a Nation' opens amid ongoing questions about the 1999 rape case involving director-actor Nate Parker.

Director Tate Taylor's The Girl on the Train is widely expected to hurtle past the competition at the North American box office this weekend, including embattled filmmaker Nate Parker's slave-rebellion drama, The Birth of a Nation.

One question mark for all films is Hurricane Matthew, which is bearing down on Florida and other coastal cities in the southeastern U.S.

Produced by Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks and distributed by Universal, Girl on the Train is an adult psychological thriller starring Emily Blunt that was adapted from the best-selling book by British author Paula Hawkins. According to projections, the movie is set to open in the mid-$20 million range.

Girl on the Train, the story of a troubled woman who witnesses disturbing events during her daily train commute, also stars Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Allison Janney, Edgar Ramirez and Lisa Kudrow. Marc Platt and Jared LeBoff produced the pic.

The female-skewing movie has drawn somewhat mixed reviews, but the popularity of the book is expected to deliver strong results. Girl on the Train cost DreamWorks under $50 million to make, and those behind the film are hoping it mimics the success of Fox's Gone Girl, which debuted to $37 million on the same weekend in 2014 on its way to earning nearly $370 million worldwide.

Birth of a Nation, Parker's directorial debut, is predicted to open in the $7 million-$8 million range, a muted start considering the film was the darling of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, where a fierce bidding war resulted in a record $17.5 million sale to Fox Searchlight.

The period drama, centering on the Nat Turner slave rebellion of 1831, seemed the ideal antidote to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy and was widely viewed as an obvious contender in the upcoming Oscar race.

But over the summer, Parker came under fire over a 1999 trial in which he and Jean Celestin, who later co-wrote Birth of a Nation, were accused of raping a classmate at Pennsylvania State University. Parker, who maintained the sex was consensual, was acquitted, while Celestin was convicted. (Celestin's case was overturned on appeal.)

Just days after Parker made new comments about the incident in a couple of interviews, it was revealed that the accuser committed suicide in 2012.

Birth of a Nation is opening in roughly 2,100 theaters, a large footprint for an indie film. In addition to directing, Parker stars opposite Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King, Jackie Earle Haley, Penelope Ann Miller and Gabrielle Union.

The weekend's third new nationwide offering is YA comedy Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, from CBS Films and Participant Media and distributed by Lionsgate.

Middle School, based on the 2011 novel of the same name by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts, was directed by Steve Carr and stars Griffin Gluck, Lauren Graham, Rob Riggle, Retta, Thomas Barbusca, Andy Daly and Adam Pally.

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