Box Office: 'Exodus' Lands No. 1 With $24.5 Million, Has Tough Battle Ahead

"Top Five" took the No. 4 spot, and several specialty films did brisk business after the SAG and Golden Globe nominations

Exodus: Gods and Kings easily topped the U.S. box office this weekend with a $24.5 million debut, dethroning The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1, which had held No. 1 for the past three weeks.

While the biblical epic, starring Christian Bale, earned exactly what box office insiders had expected for the weekend, it's not the strongest of starts for the big-budget 20th Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment film. And even though December openings are known for their slower starts and longer burns, Exodus, which cost $140 million to make after tax breaks, will need long legs over the next few holiday weekends to make a solid total. It will face stiff competition as well during a crowded holiday season that includes The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, family musical Annie, Disney's Into the Woods and Fox's threequel Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb.

While reviews weren't strong and there was some backlash over the casting of mainly Caucasian actors for the roles, Fox points out that Exodus' opening weekend audience was quite diverse, which is promising for the film's future. The audience was 54 percent male, and 65 percent was over 25 years old. And 20 percent of the audience was African-American while 18 percent Latino. Top grossing theaters ranged from major metropolitan cities to smaller towns such as San Antonio.

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Exodus also opened in several international territories, earning $43.3 million around the globe.

Second place for the weekend went to the third Hunger Games film, now it its fourth week in theaters. The Jennifer Lawrence-starring YA adaptation slid only 40 percent, earning $13.2 million for a domestic total of $277.4 million. Worldwide, the film has earned $611.4 million, helping Lionsgate pass the $1 billion mark internationally for the third year in a row.

Animated film Penguins of Madagascar swooped in just ahead of this weekend's other new offering, Top Five, for third place. The Fox family film earned a solid $7.3 million in its third week, and has earned $58.8 million domestically to date.

Chris Rock's comedy Top Five lands in fourth place for the weekend with a $7.2 million debut. The Paramount film, about a comedian who is trying to be a serious actor, opened in 979 locations, and will open wider in the coming holiday weeks, hitting around 2,000 by Jan 1.

"Our goal was to start the movie and then build it, and get the word-of-mouth going," Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore tells The Hollywood Reporter.

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The comedy has benefited from strong reviews (89 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), and critically praised R-rated comedies (Bridesmaids, for example) often have very strong multiples, so Paramount plans for the film to continue to perform well as it opens wider.

Disney's family film Big Hero 6 took fifth place, adding $6.5 million to its domestic tally for a total of $185.3 million. Internationally, the film also opened in Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, Iceland and Hong Kong this weekend and pushed its worldwide tally to $253.5 million.

Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson's latest, also entered theaters this weekend in five locations. Warner Bros.' Joaquin Phoenix-starrer earned $330,000 in its debut for a stellar $66,000 per screen.

Several awards films seem to have benefited from the announcement of the SAG and Golden Globe nominations, doing brisk business this weekend as well. Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything took ninth place for the weekend, earning $2.5 million playing at 1,220 theaters for a per-theater average of $2,070. And in its second week, Reese Witherspoon-starrer Wild had a strong weekend to take the No. 10 spot with $1.55 million in 116 locations for a per-screen average of $13,333.

Other films at the specialty box office that performed well include The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, which, in its third week, took in another $875,000 in 25 theaters for a per-screen average of $35,005. The critically acclaimed film about British mathematician Alan Turing has earned $2 million domestically to date.