(Adds details, quotes, background)
By Brent Lang
LOS ANGELES, March 22 (Variety.com) - "Insurgent" topped the weekend box office with $54 million, but its opening will likely fall just short of the numbers put up a year ago by the first film in the "Divergent" series.
That's a disappointment for Lionsgate, the studio behind the adaptations of Veronica Roth's best-selling books about a dystopian future. It hoped that the franchise would be able to build on its initial start, aided by star Shailene Woodley's higher profile following the success of "The Fault in Our Stars." Going into the weekend, Lionsgate had been projecting an opening of between $57 million to $60 million.
"Insurgent's" audience was 60 percent female and 55 percent under 25. Hispanics made up 17 percent of the opening weekend crowd and African-Americans comprised 11 percent of ticket buyers.
The studio says it's happy with the results, noting that with an A-minus CinemaScore and a lack of upcoming film releases pegged at teenage girls, "Insurgent" has a clear runway.
"Our playability is incredibly strong," said Richie Fay, Lionsgate's distribution chief. "We're seeing a few more males than we did on the first one and we're seeing an overall broadening of the audience."
"Insurgent" cost $110 million to produce, roughly $25 million more than "Divergent" racked up in production fees. "Divergent" opened to $54.6 million before going on to make $288.7 million globally.
Internationally, "Insurgent" grossed an estimated $47 million in 76 markets. Even if the film's domestic results are weaker than Lionsgate might have hoped, foreign markets where Roth's books have grown more popular over the last year could make up the difference, leading to a greater worldwide bounty.
The weekend's other major wide release, "The Gunman," fired blanks, picking up a meager $5 million and seemingly deep-sixing Sean Penn's plans to be an aging action star. Open Road distributed the film in 2,816 theaters and had expected a debut in the $8 million range. "The Gunman's" modest results were good enough for a fourth place finish in an otherwise slow weekend.
"Obviously we had hoped for a little bit more," said Jason Cassidy, chief marketing officer at Open Road Films. "It's a tough market out there and there are a lot of male-oriented action films, so it's tough to penetrate."
"The Gunman's" roughly $40 million production budget was fully funded by StudioCanal. Critics torched the picture.
"The Gunman" has good company. Over the past two weeks, testosterone-fuelled entertainments like "Run All Night" and "Chappie" have collapsed at the box office.
"It's an interesting dichotomy," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. "Women are driving the box office right now."
Pure Flix's "Do You Believe?" also debuted last weekend, operating from the same playbook as "God's Not Dead," the low-budget, faith-based film that stunned box office analysts with a massive debut last spring. "Do You Believe?" couldn't hit the same figures, earning $4 million across 1,320 theaters.
"We'd have liked it to open a little bit stronger, but we think that word-of-mouth is going to start to kick in," said Michael Scott, co-founder of Pure Flix.
"Do You Believe?" will expand by roughly 100 theaters, Pure Flix said. The company is working with church groups, as it did on "God's Not Dead," in order to drive attendance.
"Leading up to the Easter holiday and being about the message of the cross we're going to see a little kick in the coming weeks as we head towards Palm Sunday," said Scott.
Last weekend's champ "Cinderella" showed impressive endurance despite the challenge from "Insurgent" capturing second place on the charts with roughly $34.5 million. That was a 49 percent dip from its premiere and brings the Disney film's domestic total to $122 million.
The presence of "Cinderella" may have shaved a little bit off of "Insurgent's" results. When the first "Divergent" debuted in theaters in 2014, there were no major films pitched at females in the marketplace, with its competition coming from family titles like "Muppets Most Wanted" and "Mr. Peabody and Sherman."
In third place, "Run All Night" fell 54 percent to $5.1 million. The Warner Bros. action thriller has generated $19.7 million after two weeks in theaters. "Kingsman: The Secret Service" continued to be the year's quietest blockbuster, adding $4.6 million to its pot and nabbing fifth place on the chart. The Fox spy adventure has made $114.6 million since opening in February.
Horror film "It Follows" capitalized on strong reviews to earn $352,248, bringing its total to $576,275. Radius-TWC shook up the film's release pattern. It expanded from just four theaters last weekend to 32 screens and will roll out to over 1,000 next weekend. Because of the strong response, the studio is postponing the picture's VOD release.
Among art house releases, Bleecker Street's "Danny Collins" bowed to $73,157 in five theaters for a per-screen average of $14,631. The film stars Al Pacino as an aging rock star.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle Lionsgate faced with "Insurgent" was not "Cinderella" or the fickle tastes of teen moviegoers, but its own past history of success with "The Hunger Games."
"This is a victim of unfair comparisons to 'Hunger Games,'" said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. "No movie deserves that. It's too big of a hurdle to overcome. 'Divergent' is not 'The Hunger Games,' but that doesn't mean it's not successful."