Ridley Scott’s ‘Exodus’ Rules Box Office With $24.5 Million

Fox’s Biblical epic ends reign of ‘Hunger Games’ with big boost from religious moviegoers and 3D

Ridley Scott’s Biblical epic “Exodus: Gods and Kings” conquered the box office with a $24.5 million opening this weekend, and the Biblical epic got a big boost from faith-based moviegoers and 3D.

With Christian Bale starring as Moses and Joel Edgerton as Ramses, “Exodus” ended the three-week reign of the blockbuster “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1.” But the debut wasn’t enough to reverse the recent downward spiral at the domestic box office.

The weekend was pretty much wholly Moses. Katniss and Co. finished a distant second with $13.2 million for Lionsgate and DreamWorks Animation’s “Penguins of Madagascar” was third with $7.3 million, according to estimates. The weekend’s other wide opener, Chris Rock’s R-rated comedy “Top Five,” was fourth with $7.2 million from just 979 theaters for Paramount.

All of that wasn’t enough to stop a skid at the overall box office, which has been slumping since November and is down nearly five percent from last year. This weekend was down a whopping 44 percent from the comparable frame last year, when “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” dominated with $73 million.

The opening for Twentieth Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment’s Old Testament epic is well under the $47 million that another Biblical epic, Paramount’s similarly pricey “Noah,” managed in March. The production budget on “Exodus” is $140 million.

Thirty percent of the audience for “Exodus” – which was 54 percent male and 65 percent over 25 years of age — identified themselves as “very religious,” so it connected with the faith-based crowd. Hispanics and African-Americans turned out too, with both making up between 18 and 20 percent of the crowd, suggesting that a controversy over the film’s all-white casting didn’t hurt much, if at all.

The effects-laden epic also scored big on 3D, providing a whopping 44 percent of the grosses, and Premium Large Format screens, which delivered 11 percent.

It isn’t going to take a miracle for this Moses to turn a profit. Openings tend to be lower than normal and second and third weekends higher, so Fox is counting “Exodus” playing well through the holiday season. But tough reviews (28 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes) and the soft “B-” CinemaScore it received from audiences won’t help.

“We think we’re in a good place,” said Spencer Klein, senior vice-president, general sales manager at Fox. “We have room to grow with younger people and we think the faith-based crowds will keep coming as we near Christmas.”

It will need a big showing internationally, where it added $18 million this weekend and has taken in more than $50 million in two weeks of limited release.

John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kinglsey and Ben Mendelsohn co-star in the PG-13-rated “Exodus.”

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” crossed $600 million this weekend at the worldwide box office for Lionsgate, pushing the studio over the $1 billion mark at the global box office for the third consecutive year. Four weeks into its run, “Mockingjay” is up to $277 million domestically, behind only “Guardians of the Galaxy” as 2014’s highest grossing film, and $334 million at the foreign box office.

The debut for “Top Five,” which was written, directed by and stars Rock, was in line with the projections of Paramount, which acquired the comedy earlier this year for $12 million at the Toronto Film Festival.

The $7,230 per-theater average for “Top Five” was better than any other wide release except for Fox Searchlight’s “Wild.” The Reese Witherspoon drama cracked the top ten in its second week with $1.6 million from just 116 theaters for a very strong $13,945 per-theater average.

“Penguins of Madagascar” is at $57 million domestically after this weekend and is at $160 million globally after three weeks. The Fox-distributed family film held well and was off just 33 percent from last week. But Disney Animation’s “Big Hero 6” took in $6.1 million for fifth and fell just 24 percent, which had to be cutting into the “Penguins” crowd. “Big Hero 6” has grossed $185 million after six weeks domestically, and $253 million worldwide.