The weekend box office numbers are in, and it’s good news for Tate Taylor’s adaptation of The Girl on the Train. The movie grossed a solid $24.7 million over the weekend. While that’s far shy of the $37 million that Gone Girl made over the same weekend two years ago, it’s still not a bad debut, especially when you consider that Gone Girl had better reviews. Additionally, The Girl on the Train was made for less than $50 million, so it should be a modest hit for Universal. However, it may have some trouble staying strong at the box office. The movie only scored a B- CinemaScore rating, and the funny thing about CinemaScore is that anything less than an A- is not great. It may as well be a pass/fail system. The Girl on the Train could have legs in the weeks ahead, but don’t be surprised if it drops off.
While The Girl on the Train hums along to the #1 spot, all eyes are on The Birth of a Nation, and what it means going forward for Fox Searchlight, Nate Parker, and Sundance movies. To be clear, let’s not assume that the film only pulled in $7 million this weekend because people don’t want to see movies about slavery. If a film deals with slavery, has a black protagonist, and is critically acclaimed, 12 Years a Slave (also released by Fox Searchlight) tells us that it can go onto gross $187 million worldwide. In 2013, 12 Years a Slave had a limited release in mid-October and then went wide in November. Granted, it was powered by a successful awards run, but it’s also a great movie.
The Birth of a Nation encountered three glaring problems. First, obviously, was the backlash against Parker as the rape allegations against him and his co-writer Jean McGianni Celestin surfaced shortly after the film was purchased at Sundance. If The Birth of a Nation changes anything, it will be that no studio will throw down millions of dollars at a film festival without first reading the director’s Wikipedia page.
Second, the acclaim at Sundance invited closer scrutiny, and what critics found was a film that was not as well made as 12 Years a Slave or really anything warranting the biggest purchase in Sundance history. The film also held up Nat Turner as a figure of hero worship rather than delving into the complexities of slave life.
The first two problems conflated into the third problem: Nate Parker, an alleged rapist, cast himself as a character who is motivated by the rape of Nat Turner’s wife to lead a rebellion. That’s a lot of baggage for a film to carry, and it should really make studios think twice about the cynical calculus of purchasing a film just because it looks like an easy contender for Oscars. If The Birth of a Nation had been a hit this weekend, its Oscar chances would still be alive. That being said, it could have legs (it receive an ‘A’ CinemaScore), but I doubt it will be a player in this year’s Oscar race (if voters want to combat #OscarsSoWhite, I predict they’ll support Denzel Washington’s Fences).
Finally, the weekend’s other new release was the YA comedy Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, which pulled in $6.9 million from 2,822 theaters. It received an A- CinemaScore, and you will have forgotten about it by the time you finish reading this sentence.
Check out the weekend’s Top 10 below:
|1.||The Girl on the Train
|2.||Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
|4.||The Magnificent Seven
|6.||The Birth of a Nation
|7.||Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life
|10.||Queen of Katwe