Weekend Box Office (February 28 - March 2, 2014)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Liam Neeson conquered the North American box office with his latest action thriller Non-Stop which exceeded expectations debuting at number one with $28.9M, according to final studio figures. Universal's third top spot debut of the year averaged a muscular $9,345 from 3,090 locations and reinforced the 61-year-old actor's reputation as one of the most bankable and reliable box office draws around. Over the past five years, Neeson has had six action movies open at number one. That's more than Matt Damon, Tom Cruise, and Will Smith - combined!

The Oscar-nominated actor's newest film earned mixed reviews from critics, but moviegoers instead responded to starpower and an intriguing story. In Non-Stop, Neeson plays a U.S. air marshal on board a trans-Atlantic flight who must seek out and capture a mysterious criminal who will kill a passenger every 20 minutes if his demands are not met. Also helping were thrilling trailers and TV spots which effectively communicated the plot to audiences.

The stellar opening weekend came thanks to broad support across many demos. Studio research showed that cross-gender appeal was tremendous with 51% being female. Mature adult couples contributed significantly. Broad appeal across races also made a difference as 54% of the audience was non-white. The only group lacking were young people - which has become common these days - as 65% of the crowd was over 25. A good A- CinemaScore and older audience base suggests that the road ahead could be promising.

Fox's Son of God debuted strong in second place with $25.6M from 3,260 locations for a solid $7,853 average. The PG-13 film was actually an edit that took material from the History Channel mini-series The Bible which was viewed by millions last spring. This version compiled footage mostly pertaining to Jesus Christ and turned them into a stand-alone feature film intended to be an event movie in theaters for audiences. The plan worked and a targeted push towards the faith-based audience succeeded. Despite the Oscar broadcast, Sunday is expected to generate strong sales from the post-church service crowd.

Paying moviegoers gave very positive feedback. The CinemaScore was an A- while the PostTrak survey showed that 91% of those polled called the film either excellent or very good. Older women made up the core audience with data showing that the crowd was 62% female and 82% over 25. 22% of the audience was Latino and a Spanish-language version of the film played in over 200 of the theaters. Reviews were mostly negative, but customers responded more to a big-screen version of an important story.

The LEGO Movie was knocked out of the top spot after a three-week reign, however it still held up well and even crossed the $200M barrier in the process. The animated action-comedy, which includes Liam Neeson in the voice cast as Good Cop and Bad Cop, declined by only 34% to $20.8M in its fourth round. LEGO is the first film since Gravity to gross over $20M in each of its first four weekends. Even megahits Frozen and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire did not accomplish that.

Warner Bros. has now collected a massive $209.1M for its animated sensation making it the studio's biggest toon of all-time beating the $198M of 2006's Happy Feet. LEGO may be able to reach the vicinity $260M from North America alone and will finally face some direct competition next weekend with the arrival of the animated comedy Mr. Peabody & Sherman from Fox and DreamWorks Animation followed two weeks later by Disney's Muppets Most Wanted.

The rest of the top ten was filled with holdovers each collecting modest amounts. Relativity's Kevin Costner action pic 3 Days to Kill got punched hard by Liam and tumbled 60% to $5M putting the ten-day total at $20.8M. A $30M final may result. George Clooney's The Monuments Men held up well again in its fourth weekend grossing $4.9M, off 38%, for a $65.6M cume for Sony.

A pair of effects-heavy action films from Sony followed. The remake RoboCop fell 54% to $4.5M boosting the domestic tally to $51.2M. It opened to muscular numbers in China this weekend (helped by IMAX screens) with an estimated $20.5M which nearly matched its domestic debut. Worldwide tally sits at $187M with 73% of that coming from international markets. Pompeii dropped 58% to $4.3M for a weak $17.8M after ten days. Look for a lousy $25M final.

It was a landmark weekend for Disney's animated sensation Frozen which shattered the one billion dollar mark at the global box office and ended Oscar night with two wins. The snow toon dipped only 18% in its 14th weekend of domestic release to $3.6M raising the cume to $388.8M. Overseas, Frozen broke the $600M barrier and rose to a staggering $611.5M putting the worldwide gross a tad bit above $1B. How impressive is that for an original story? Frozen is now only the third film in history not based on a major brand to top the billion dollar mark after James Cameron's Avatar and Titanic. With its final market of Japan still to come later this month, Frozen may just finish above the $1.1B mark.

Kevin Hart rounded out the top ten with his two recent hit films. The romantic comedy About Last Night grossed $3.4M while the cop pic Ride Along followed with $3M. The Sony film fell 55% and has banked $43.7M to date while the Universal smash dipped a smaller 34% putting its total at $127.2M. Ride Along has now grossed more than this winter's star-driven sequel Anchorman 2 starring Will Ferrell.

As is often the case on Oscar weekend, audiences caught up on Best Picture contenders in the final days before the big ceremony. Most saw their weekend grosses increase from last week such as 12 Years a Slave (+87%), Dallas Buyers Club (+46%), Gravity (+5%), American Hustle (+11%), and Philomena (+1%). Paramount's two horses in the race both dipped, The Wolf of Wall Street by 6% and Nebraska by 9%.

Foreign films enjoyed some activity at the domestic box office this weekend. Russia's top-grossing blockbuster of all-time Stalingrad launched exclusively on IMAX 3D screens and opened to $510,846 from 308 locations for a weak $1,659 average. India's The Lunchbox platformed in New York and Los Angeles to $44,542 from three sites for a $14,847 average ahead of an expansion into more major cities on Friday. And Miyazaki's The Wind Rises, Japan's highest grossing film of 2013, expanded nationally to $1.5M from 496 theaters for a $3,059 average. Disney's cume is $2M for the Oscar nominee for best animated feature.

The top ten films grossed $104.1M which was up 19% from last year when Jack the Giant Slayer opened at number one with $27.2M; but down 29% from 2012 when The Lorax took the top spot with $70.2M.

Compared to projections, Non-Stop and Son of God both opened above my respective forecasts of $24M and $20M.

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Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when 300: Rise of an Empire and Mr. Peabody & Sherman both open.

# Title Feb 28 - Mar 2 Feb 21 - 23 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Non-Stop $ 28,875,635 3,090 1 $ 9,345 $ 28,875,635 Universal
2 Son of God 25,601,865 3,260 1 7,853 25,601,865 Fox
3 The LEGO Movie 20,828,356 31,305,359 -33.5 3,770 4 5,525 209,138,440 Warner Bros.
4 3 Days to Kill 4,950,813 12,242,218 -59.6 2,872 2 1,724 20,751,696 Relativity
5 The Monuments Men 4,940,198 7,912,276 -37.6 3,002 4 1,646 65,633,171 Sony
6 RoboCop 4,508,609 9,805,051 -54.0 2,885 3 1,563 51,220,053 Sony
7 Pompeii 4,331,431 10,340,823 -58.1 2,658 2 1,630 17,767,115 Sony
8 Frozen 3,631,640 4,403,797 -17.5 1,746 15 2,080 388,756,783 Disney
9 About Last Night 3,383,253 7,534,816 -55.1 1,804 3 1,875 43,734,601 Sony
10 Ride Along 3,037,680 4,623,390 -34.3 1,869 7 1,625 127,161,080 Universal
11 American Hustle 1,921,945 1,732,098 11.0 945 12 2,034 146,710,375 Sony
12 Endless Love 1,526,780 3,967,520 -61.5 1,874 3 815 22,189,610 Universal
13 The Wind Rises 1,517,404 313,751 383.6 496 2 3,059 1,953,947 Disney
14 Anchorman 2 (incl R ver) 1,358,833 1,317 11 1,032 126,527,201 Paramount
15 The Wolf of Wall Street 1,221,240 1,302,871 -6.3 505 10 2,418 114,570,292 Paramount
16 Philomena 1,206,841 1,196,316 0.9 1,097 15 1,100 34,611,509 Weinstein Co.
17 Lone Survivor 1,026,650 1,978,380 -48.1 1,017 10 1,009 123,341,616 Universal
18 12 Years a Slave 975,931 522,497 86.8 411 20 2,375 50,336,296 Fox Searchlight
19 Gravity 889,300 847,195 5.0 340 22 2,616 270,478,831 Warner Bros.
20 The Nut Job 661,537 1,066,564 -38.0 752 7 880 60,792,181 Open Road
Top 5 $ 85,196,867 $ 71,605,727 19.0
Top 10 104,089,480 94,308,705 10.4
Top 20 116,395,941 105,589,428 10.2
Top 20 vs. 2013 116,395,941 103,194,992 12.8

Last Updated: March 4, 2014 at 10:40PM ET

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