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‘Selma’ Fails to Get Major MLK Boost at Box Office

Paramount’s civil rights drama doesn’t catch fire despite holiday, Best Picture Oscar nomination

The civil rights drama “Selma” not only didn’t get much of a box-office boost from last week’s Best Picture Oscar nomination and the Martin Luther King holiday, it actually fell off in its second weekend of wide release.

Despite adding 56 theaters, “Selma” brought in $8.3 million between Friday and Sunday, a 23 percent drop from its $11.3 million wide opening last weekend.

And the MLK holiday weekend doesn’t seem to be providing the spike in business some observers had expected for the Paramount Pictures’ historical film either. The critically acclaimed drama focuses on the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery marches demanding voting rights for blacks. Some of the marches were led by the iconic civil rights leader, played in the movie by David Oyelowo.

Despite efforts to tie the film in with MLK celebrations like Sunday’s march in Selma that members of the cast planned to attend, the Ava DuVernay-directed drama is expected to take in a little more than $2 million Sunday and finish with a four-day total of $10.3 million.

Its average in 2,335 theaters over the three days was $3,714, pretty good but not enough to change momentum at the box office or in the awards race, especially with the Iraq War saga “American Sniper” making history with its record $90.2 million box-office tally this weekend.

“Maybe if they had waited until after the Oscar noms to go wide, it might have done better,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at box-office tracker Rentrak. “But that’s hindsight, and it might have been overshadowed by ‘American Sniper’ anyway.”

“Selma,” which co-stars Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, rapper-turned-actor Common and Oprah Winfrey, who also produced along with Brad Pitt, has taken in roughly $28 million since opening domestically in limited release on Christmas Day.

That’s not close to the $51.7 million that “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” was at two weekends into its wide rollout in August of 2013. That one was also a historical drama looking at race relations in America with Winfrey behind it, but it had a higher-profile cast and less competition in the summer.

Still, “Selma” is ahead of the $24.8 million that “12 Years a Slave” had rung up for Fox Searchlight two weekends into its wide release last year. That one went on to win the Best Picture and gross more than $188 million worldwide, so there’s plenty of room for optimism.

At one time considered a frontrunner for the Academy Awards’ top honor, “Selma” has had a rough run recently, and controversy surrounding the film may have hurt.

Historians put the filmmakers on the defensive after questions about its accuracy regarding the relationship between King and President Lyndon B. Johnson. Columnist Maureen Dowd voiced similar complaints in a New York Times column published Saturday.

It was snubbed at the Producers Guild and BAFTA nominations, but received a Best Picture nomination for the Academy Awards on Thursday. It was overlooked in the Oscar writing, directing and acting categories however.

The news was better for some of the other films that received Oscar nominations for Best Picture and sought to capitalize at the box office in rapid expansions.

“The Imitation Game” finished sixth on the national chart with $7.5 million over the three days. That projects to a $9.2 million four-day total for the historical drama starring Benedict Cumberbatch, which averaged a strong $4,464 from its 1,611 theaters, after TWC added 45 locations.

Fox Searchlight nearly doubled the run of “Birdman,” and director Alejandro Inarritu’s surreal comedy starring Michael Keaton, Ed Norton and Emma Stone brought in $1.5 million from 471 locations over the three days. It’s pacing for a $1.9 million four-day haul, which would mean a $4,205 per-theater average for the film, which has been in release 14 weeks.

Sony Classics put “Foxcatcher” into 759 locations, a 522-theater increase for the murder tale starring Steve Carell, and it brought in $1.2 million for the three days, a $3,530 per-theater average. It’s heading for a $1.5 million four-day haul that will lift its domestic total to more than $10 million after 10 weeks.

The Stephen Hawking biopic “The Theory of Everything,” starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, tallied $560,000 between Friday and Sunday after Focus Features added 101 locations. That’s an average of $1,186 at its 509 theaters. It will finish the four days at around $1.1 million, which will lift its domestic total to nearly $28 million after 11 weeks in release. Focus plans a larger expansion for the coming weekend.