‘Birth of a Nation’ Looks Like a Bomb After Rape Case Fallout

Though word of mouth could save slavery drama at the box office

Last Updated: October 8, 2016 @ 9:26 AM

Slavery epic “The Birth of a Nation,” playing in 2,105 locations, isn’t faring well this weekend. The latest projections are now set lower than initial estimates of $9 million and the film will be lucky to clear $8 million once the weekend comes to a close.

The R-rated drama made $2.6 million on Friday.

The good news is the film has a solid A CinemaScore, indicating it could play in the weeks to come off positive word of mouth. Its Rotten Tomatoes score is also a fresh 79 percent.

The film’s publicity campaign has been derailed by stories about a 17-year-old rape accusation against filmmaker and star Nate Parker, who was acquitted. The title will have a hard time meeting the initial expectations from when it was bought by Fox Searchlight at this year’s Sundance Film Festival for a record-breaking $17.5 million.

After sweeping the top two prizes at Sundance (the grand jury prize and the audience award), the film was initially expected to perform well at the box office and be an Oscar contender.

“The Birth of a Nation,” produced for a reported $10 million, stars Parker as Nat Turner, who led a 48-hour slave rebellion against his white masters. Armie Hammer and Aja Naomi King co-star alongside Jackie Earle Haley and Jayson Warner Smith. It will have trouble finishing in the top five, tracking behind a holdover, the animated “Storks.”

Meanwhile, DreamWorks Pictures’ murder mystery “The Girl on the Train,” starring Emily Blunt, is on track to easily top this weekend’s box office with $26.5 million.

Earning $9.4 million on Friday, the adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ best-selling novel of the same name revolves around a troubled and eccentric divorcée (Blunt) who inserts herself into a missing persons case.

Trackers had the thriller topping $30 million earlier in the week, though studio estimates from Universal, the film’s distributor, were more conservative, predicting it would safely exceed $20 million in box office receipts.

The prospects are good for “The Girl on the Train,” which was made for $40 million, not counting marketing costs.

It has a B- CinemaScore, given by those surveyed on opening night, and a low 43 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

Playing in 3,135 theaters, the film also features Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin TherouxLuke EvansAllison JanneyEdgar Ramirez and Lisa Kudrow.

“The Girl on the Train” was directed by Tate Taylor, who helmed the Oscar-winning film “The Help,” which was also based on a book.

Another book adaptation in theaters this weekend is CBS Films and Lionsgate’s “Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life.”

Playing in 2,822 theaters, the coming-of-age comedy is expected to debut at $7 million, earning $1.95 million on Friday night alone. It was made for a reported $11 million, less marketing costs.

Given its A- CinemaScore, the movie could have legs going into next weekend. The PG-rated film has a 62 percent Rotten Tomatoes score.

Directed by Steve Carr (“Paul Blart Mall Cop,” “Movie 43”), the film stars Griffin Gluck, Lauren Graham and Rob Riggle.

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