‘The Girl on the Train’ Bestseller Adaptation Tops Weekend

“The Girl on the Train,” Universal Pictures’ maiden release from a new distribution pact with Steven Spielberg, topped the box office on its opening weekend.

Based on the best-selling novel by Paula Hawkins, the feature collected $24.5 million in theaters in the U.S and Canada, researcher ComScore Inc. said Sunday in a statement. It easily beat “The Birth of a Nation,” a Sundance Film Festival prize winner, which placed sixth with sales that missed estimates. The other debuting film, comedy “Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life,” came in seventh.

Adaptations of books by female authors like “The Girl on the Train” have had recent success at the box office. Last year’s “Gone Girl” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” became hits, driven by demand from the novels’ fans. The box office win is a boost for Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures, which trails Walt Disney Co. and Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros. this year in domestic market share. In 2015, Universal topped the list with blockbusters including “Jurassic World” and “Furious 7.”

“The Girl on the Train” had a production budget of $45 million, according to researcher Box Office Mojo. The movie was forecast to collect $26.5 million by analysts at BoxOfficePro.com.

Directed by Tate Taylor, Emily Blunt plays Rachel Watson, an alcoholic who becomes obsessed with the lives of her ex-husband’s new wife and her nanny. Watching their comings and goings from the train every day, she gets drunk, blacks out and wakes up a murder suspect after one of the women goes missing. Critics were mixed, with 46 percent giving it positive reviews, according to Rottentomatoes.com.

The film is the first to be released under Universal’s alliance with Spielberg’s Amblin Partners.

“The Birth of a Nation,” named after the famously racist 1915 silent feature by D.W. Griffith, also made its debut. Nate Parker directs and plays the role of slave and preacher Nat Turner, who leads a rebellion in the hope of setting the slaves free. 

Set in the antebellum South and filmed entirely in Savannah, Georgia, at an estimated cost of $10 million, according to IMDB.com, the movie was acquired by Fox Searchlight in a high-profile bidding battle versus digital distributor Netflix Inc. The 21st Century Fox film label paid $17.5 million and promised the filmmakers a wide release. The debut has been dogged by revelations of a rape charge against Parker, made when he was in college and of which he was acquitted.

Critics praised the film, with 78 percent giving positive notices on Rottentomatoes.com. The feature made $7 million in its first weekend. It had been expected to draw $9 million, according to Hollywood Stock Exchange.

“It’s not something that’s going to have a gigantic audience right away -- there’s lots of touchy subject matter,” said Gitesh Pandya, chief executive officer of the Boxofficeguru website. “The question is will people find it over time as more and more friends recommend it.”

The Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. comedy “Middle School: The Worst Year of My Life,” a co-production with CBS Films, collected an estimated $6.9 million. It was predicted to generate $6.8 million by Box Office Mojo.

“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” last week’s No. 1 movie, fell to second place with $15.1 million in sales.

Hurricane Matthew may have depressed weekend sales by as as much as 5 percent because of theater closings from Florida to South Carolina, Box Office Mojo said.

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