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Faith-based film Heaven Is for Real soared at the Easter weekend box office, earning a stellar $21.5 million from 2,417 theaters to bury big-budget sci-fi epic Transcendence, which opened to a dismal $11.5 million from 3,455 locations.
Transcendence marks the third big-budget bomb in a row for Johnny Depp after The Lone Ranger and Dark Shadows (both of those movies opened to roughly $29 million, but never found success). In terms of Depp’s openings, Transcendence came in lower than The Tourist, which debuted to $16.5 million in 2010.
Overseas, where Depp arguably remains a bigger star, Transcendence debuted to $17.4 million from 27 markets, led by China with a solid $11.4 million.
Captain America, staying at No. 1 for its third consecutive weekend, grossed $26.6 million from 3,825 locations to cross the $200 million mark domestically and hit $586.6 million worldwide in another major victory for Marvel Studios and Disney.
Fox’s animated family film Rio 2 grossed $22.5 million from 3,975 locations in its second weekend for a domestic total of $75.4 million.
Heaven Is for Real, placing No. 3 and clearly benefiting from the Easter holiday, is the latest Christian film to exceed expectations. From Sony’s TriStar label, the movie opened Wednesday and earned an impressive $28.5 million in its first five days.
Produced by influential pastor T. D. Jakes, director Randall Wallace and Hollywood veteran Joe Roth, Heaven Is for Real stars Greg Kinnear and earned an A CinemaScore. The drama did its biggest business in the country’s Bible Belt, but appealed to mainstream audiences as well.
The movie is based on the real-life story of Nebraska pastor Todd Burpo, whose young son said he found himself in heaven during emergency surgery. The film is adapted from the pastor’s book of the same name, co-written by Lynn Vincent.
“It’s really a terrific result,” said Sony’s distribution chief Rory Bruer. “And Easter was certainly a date that was in the wheelhouse of the film.”
Easter weekend provided further evidence that 2014 is indeed the year of the Bible movies. Heaven Is for Real was one of three such titles populating the top 10 chart. Noah placed No. 9 with $5 million for a domestic cume of $93.2 million, while God’s Not Dead came in No. 10 with $4.8 million, pushing its total to $48.2 million.
Heading into the weekend, no one expected the $12 million Heaven Is for Real to beat Transcendence, which cost a hefty $100 million to produce. Transcendence suffered from scathing reviews and a C+ CinemaScore.
Transcendence is a blow for Alcon Entertainment, which co-financed the movie with China’s DMG Entertainment, while Warner Bros. is handling domestic distribution duties. Summit International sold Transcendence overseas to independent distributors, covering much of the budget. Straight Up Films developed the project, and brought it to Alcon.
“The movie just missed its audience,” said Warners executive vice president of distribution Jeff Goldstein, whose studio has a long-term deal with Alcon, home of hits including The Blind Side and Dolphin Tale.
Transcendence, coming in No. 4 in North America, still hopes to make up ground internationally.
Outside of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in 2011, Depp’s most recent films — Lone Ranger, Dark Shadows and The Rum Diary — have struggled badly in the U.S. Generally speaking, he remains a far more potent star overseas, although Lone Ranger and Dark Shadows still bombed. Depp was paid a reported $20 million for Transcendence.
Marking the directorial debut of cinematographer Wally Pfister — a favorite of Christopher Nolan‘s — Transcendence stars Depp as a brilliant scientist whose mind is uploaded into a computer after he is gunned down. Rebecca Hall and Morgan Freeman also star, while Nolan and his wife, Emma Thomas, served as executive producers.
Easter weekend saw two other new nationwide offerings — A Haunted House 2 and Disney documentary Bears.
IM Global’s Haunted House 2 placed No. 5 with $9.1 million from 2,310 theaters, half of the $18 million opening secured by the first film. Open Road Films is distributing the comedy-horror title, which reteams director Michael Tiddes and star Marlon Wayans.
Haunted House 2, a follow-up to the 2013 box office hit, cost just $4 million to produce. Wayans co-wrote the script with his longtime filmmaking partner Rick Alvarez.
Bears placed No. 11 with a less-than-expected $4.7 million from 1,720 theaters, the lowest opening of any Disneynature title. Directed by Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey, the nature documentary follows a family of grizzly bears living in Alaska. John C. Reilly narrated the film.
Disney can certainly absorb a disappointment. In addition to Captain America 2‘s strong run, Frozen continues to make headlines at the global box office, where the animated film has crossed the $100 million mark in Japan, its final territory.
Over the weekend, Frozen became the No. 6 title of all time worldwide with $1.129 billion in earnings, passing up The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King ($1.114 billion) and Transformers: Dark of the Moon ($1.123 billion). It has also passed up Ice Age 4 ($716 million) to become the top-grossing animated film at the international box office with $729.3 million.
At the U.S specialty box office, director-actor John Turturro‘s Fading Gigolo scored a strong opening despite the recent personal scandal surrounding Woody Allen, who also stars. The movie, from Millennium, opened to $198,379 from five locations for a location average of $39,680.
Here are the top 10 estimates for the weekend of April 18-20 at the domestic box office:
Title, Weeks in Release/Theater Count, Studio, Weekend Total, Percentage Drop, Cume
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, 3/3,825, Disney/Marvel, $26.6 million, -36%, $201.5 million.
2. Rio 2, 2/3,975, Fox/Blue Sky, $22.5 million, -43%, $75.4 million.
3. Heaven Is for Real, 1/2,417, Sony/TriStar, $21.5 million, $28.5 million.
4. Transcendence, 1/3,455, Warner Bros./Alcon, $11.5 million.
5. A Haunted House 2, 1/2,310, Open Road/IM Global, $9.1 million.
6. Draft Day, 1/2,486, Lionsgate/Summit $5.9 million, -40%, $19.5 million.
7. Divergent, 5/2,486, Lionsgate/Summit, $5.8 million, -22%, $133.9 million.
8. Oculus, 2/2,648, Relativity, $5.2 million, -57%, $21.2 million.
9. Noah, 4/2,537, Paramount/New Regency, $5 million, -34%, $93.2 million.
10. God’s Not Dead, 4/1,796, Freestyle/Pure Flix, $4.8 million, -13%, $48.2 million.
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Sir Anthony Hopkins