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Lions Gate Teen-Warrior Film ‘Divergent’ Tops Theaters

“Divergent,” the first film in Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. (LGF)’s new teen-warrior series, opened in first place with sales of $54.6 million in domestic theaters, missing estimates.

The film, which has two sequels in pre-production, outdrew Walt Disney Co. (DIS)’s “Muppets Most Wanted,” the follow-up to the 2011 movie and the only other picture opening in wide release. “Muppets” collected $17 million for second place, according to an e-mailed statement today from Rentrak Corp. (RENT)

“This is the beginning of a new young adult franchise for Lions Gate,” said Richard Fay, president of domestic distribution at the Santa Monica, California-based studio. “We still have some runway ahead with spring break. We anticipate a great ultimate gross.”

BoxOffice.com had forecast $54 million in receipts for “Divergent,” lowered twice from $68 million initially. The film is a linchpin in efforts by Lions Gate to build on the success the studio enjoyed as young audiences flocked to “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games.” The weekend total included sales from Thursday, March 20.

The film performed as the studio expected and highlighted efforts to reach young fans, Fay said. More boys turned out to watch the film than the “Hunger Games” or “Twilight,” according to Fay. The gender split was around 59 percent female and 41 percent male.

“With this film we have reached a different audience, so we are always building,” Fay said.

Large Screens

Large-screen formats, such as those from Imax Corp., represented more than 16 percent of sales, another indicator of how well “Divergent” was received by young men, Fay said.

The second film in the series, “Insurgent,” is set to start filming in May, according to the company, and should be released March 20, 2015, according to Box Office Mojo.

“Divergent” stars Shailene Woodley as Tris, a young woman in a society where people are classified on their virtues such as bravery and intelligence. Woodley, whose films include “The Descendants,” learns she’s part of a group seen as dangerous and targeted for annihilation. Theo James is her male co-star Four.

Like “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent” is based on popular young-adult novels. The three “Divergent” books from Veronica Roth have sold 17.6 million copies.

Analysts predicted the first weekend would be dominated by fans of the books. According to Lions Gate, only 50 percent of Divergent’s opening audience had read the book, compared with three-quarters of the debut audiences of “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games.”

Iffy Reviews

“Divergent,” which cost about $85 million to make, according to researcher Box Office Mojo, garnered a 40 percent positive rating on Rottentomatoes.com, a website that aggregates reviews by critics. Few favorable notices may limit the appeal to wider audiences, according to James Marsh, a Piper Jaffray Cos. analyst in New York. He forecasts sales of about $150 million for the full run in U.S. and Canadian cinemas, a sum the studio will split with theater operators.

Lions Gate rose 3.8 percent to $28.66 at the close in New York today. The shares fell 7.9 percent to $27.60 on March 21 after the studio said early showings of “Divergent” the previous day had generated $4.9 million in sales. Some analysts had been expecting the film to open as well as “Twilight,” which earned $7 million in similar showings.

Its predecessors set high bars. “The Hunger Games” generated $1.56 billion in worldwide ticket sales with two films, while five “Twilight” pictures collected $3.34 billion, according to Box Office Mojo.

Disney’s Muppets

“Muppets Most Wanted” garnered a strong critical reception, with 77 percent of reviews favorable, according to Rottentomatoes.com. It came in shy of BoxOffice.com’s forecast of $17.5 million and less than “The Muppets,” which took in almost $30 million in its opening weekend in 2011.

The movie, featuring the voices of Ricky Gervais and “Modern Family” star Ty Burrell, takes the entire cast of the Muppets on a global tour with mayhem following them as they become entangled in a European jewel heist.

“God’s Not Dead,” a religious movie in limited debut from Pure Flix Entertainment, opened in fourth place with $9.2 million in its debut. The film follows a student whose faith is challenged by his philosophy professor.

Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” from Fox Searchlight, collected $6.8 million as it expanded to 304 theaters. The movie, starring Ralph Fiennes and an ensemble cast, opened on March 7.

Weekend revenue for the top 10 films rose 1.9 percent to $129.6 million from a year earlier, according to Rentrak. So far in 2014, domestic ticket sales have increased 8.9 percent to $2.2 billion.

The following table has U.S. movie box-office figures provided by studios to Rentrak. The amounts are based on gross ticket sales for March 21 to March 23.

                    Rev.   Pct.             Avg./   Total
Movie              (mln)   Chg.  Theaters  Theater   (mln)   Wks
================================================================
 1 Divergent       $54.6     --    3,936  $13,874    $54.6    1
 2 Muppets          17.0     --    3,194    5,324     17.0    1
 3 Mr. Peabody      11.8    -46    3,607    3,280     81.1    3
 4 God’s Not Dead    9.2     --      780   11,852      9.2    1
 5 300: Rise         8.5    -56    3,085    2,757     93.6    3
 6 Need For Speed    7.9    -55    3,115    2,549     30.6    2
 7 Grand Budapest    6.8     87      304   22,329     13.0    3
 8 Non-Stop          6.4    -39    2,945    2,185     78.7    4
 9 Lego Movie        4.1    -46    2,501    1,659    243.4    7
10 Single Mom’s      3.1    -62    1,896    1,637     12.9    2

Top 10 Films Grosses

   This Week     Year Ago      Pct.
     (mln)         (mln)       Chg.
===================================
    $129.6        $127.2      +1.9


Year-to-date Revenue

     2014          2013
      YTD           YTD        Pct.
     (mln)         (mln)       Chg.
===================================
    $2,200        $2,021      +8.9

Source: Rentrak Corp.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anousha Sakoui in London at asakoui@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ben Livesey at blivesey@bloomberg.net; Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net; Rob Golum at rgolum@bloomberg.net; Sylvia Wier at swier@bloomberg.net

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