Box Office: 'Girl on the Train' Rides to $1.2 Million Thursday

The Girl on the Train 2 - JUSTIN THEROUX - EMILY BLUNT - Still - H - 2016
Universal Pictures

Nate Parker's slave-rebellion drama, 'The Birth of a Nation,' and 'Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life' also open wide this weekend.

Tate Taylor's The Girl on the Train got off to a swift start, earning $1.23 million Thursday night. The film is expected to top this weekend's other new releases, Nate Parker's slave-rebellion drama, The Birth of a Nation, and fellow book adaptation Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life.

The three films open against Hurricane Matthew, which will slow down moviegoing in Georgia, Florida, and North and South Carolinas this weekend.

The adaptation of Paula Hawkins' hit novel, starring Emily Blunt, is tracking to open in the mid-$20 million range. Produced by Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks and distributed by Universal, the story centers on a woman (Blunt) who thinks she witnesses a murder while riding on the train but because of her troubled past and problems with alcohol doesn't know if she can trust what she believes she's seen.

While author Hawkins says she doesn't feel her novel is similar to Gillian Flynn's dark mystery Gone Girl, those behind the film would be happy if it could mimic the Fox film's path. Gone Girl earned  $1.25 million in previews on its way to a $37 million debut on the same weekend in 2014, and a final tally of nearly $370 million worldwide.

The film also stars stars Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Allison Janney, Edgar Ramirez and Lisa Kudrow. Marc Platt and Jared LeBoff produced the pic.

Birth of a Nation, the Sundance sensation that was purchased by Fox Searchlight for a record $17.5 million, is tracking for a $7 million to $8 million debut. The film, which Parker directed and stars in, follows slave Nat Turner, who led a bloody uprising in 1831.

The question remains how the recent controversy surrounding Parker, who 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, will affect the film. Parker, who maintained the sex was consensual, was acquitted, while Celestin was convicted. (Celestin's case was overturned on appeal.)

The weekend's final new offering is 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.