Weekend Box Office: ‘Noah’ survives flood of new releases

Riding on a flood of controversy, Darren Aronofsky’s reinterpretation of the story of Noah and the Ark won the weekend with a strong $43.72M. While it was nothing compared to the controversy of The Passion of the Christ ten years ago, the intrigue of seeing this Biblical tale adapted for the big screen was enough to bring the devout and the curious in strong numbers.

Noah, starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins and Emma Watson, became a much-debated approach to the material incorporated some of the more fantastical elements from the Bible and from the apocryphal texts, which aren’t as familiar to non-religious audiences. It also addressed the moral ambiguity of Noah himself.

To compensate for the potentially polarizing details, such as the portrayal of the angels more akin to the monstrous descriptions in the Old Testament and the interpretation of Noah as a survivalist eco-extremist, 20th Century Fox has marketed the film as a disaster epic, teasing some of the elaborate visuals of literal Biblical proportions. Noah is frequently shown as a gritty powerful figure in trailers, reminiscent of Russell Crowe’s roles in Gladiator and Robin Hood.

The response from American audiences were very mixed though, with many surprised at the deviations from the source material and the incorporation of many esoteric details from the rabbinical texts. While that may lead to weaker legs domestically, its international potential is huge. Disaster epics play strongly overseas and the story of Noah is universally known across multiple cultures and creeds – nearly every major religion has some version of the flood story.

But Noah can’t quite claim dominance, as other films did just fine in their own right. Divergent fell 51 percent to $25.62M, which was a better drop than both the first Twilight and the first Hunger Games movies. Muppets Most Wanted was able to save some face from its weak opening with a 33.1 percent drop to $11.28M and Mr. Peabody & Sherman continues to play well with family audiences with a $9.07M.

The smallest drop, though, belonged to the Christian-geared God’s Not Dead, which fell just 4.5 percent to $8.8M for the weekend. Maybe some Christians, turned off by the changes in Noah, instead went to see this film.

One film did bomb this weekend, though. Sabotage, the David Ayer-directed DEA action thriller, which only mustered $5.27M. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and an ensemble including Sam Worthington, Malin Akerman, Joe Manganiello and Terrence Howard, this marks the third straight bomb for Arnold (last year’s The Last Stand and Escape Plan both flopped, grossing only $25.13M and $12.05M, respectively). While the former governor of California remains a lovable public figure, this may prove once and for all that modern audiences just aren’t interested in seeing him lead an action film anymore.

Further down the list was Cesar Chavez, starring Michael Peña as the Mexican-American civil rights activist, which managed a disappointing $2.86M in 664 theaters. Lionsgate had marketed the film directly to Mexican-American audiences, who, despite comprising of nearly 33 percent of all moviegoers, are barely represented in the majority of films. In fact, Cesar Chavez will be the only film from a major studio this year that features a Hispanic actor in the lead role. However, this may have been a case where the studio failed to market it to anyone else, so there was little fanfare outside of its core audience.