NORTH AMERICA: Weekend Estimates: ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ Rules with Modest $24.5M; ‘Top Five’ Out of the Gates in Fourth with $7.2M

Sunday Update: Fox’s Exodus: Gods and Kings debuted in first place this weekend with an estimated $24.5 million. While the Ridley Scott directed epic starring Christian Bale did open on the low end of expectations, the film’s opening weekend performance left a bit to be desired given the film’s price tag and its high profile nature. Compared to recent high-profile biblical epics, Exodus: Gods and Kings debuted 44 percent below the $43.72 million start of Noah and 4 percent below the $25.60 million start of the far less expensive Son of God (neither of which had the advantage of higher priced 3D admissions). Given its December release date Exodus: Gods and Kings will likely hold up better going forward than both Noah and Son of God did. However, the film is also unlikely to display strong holding power given its lackluster critical reviews and the upcoming launch of Warner’s highly anticipated The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies on Wednesday.

Exodus: Gods and Kings opened with $8.78 million on Friday (which included an estimated $1.2 million from late night Thursday shows), increased 4 percent on Saturday to take in $9.15 million and is estimated to decline 28 percent on Sunday to gross $6.58 million. That places the film’s estimated opening weekend to Friday ratio at 2.79 to 1, which isn’t the most encouraging early sign. Exodus: Gods and Kings received an underwhelming B- rating on CinemaScore.

After leading the box office with relative ease for three consecutive weeks, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 fell to second this week with an estimated $13.2 million. The third installment of Lionsgate’s blockbuster franchise was down a respectable 40 percent from last weekend. In comparison, last year’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire fell 48 percent in its fourth weekend to gross $13.67 million (though it should be noted that The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug opened that weekend). The 24-day take for Mockingjay – Part 1 stands at $277.39 million. While Mockingjay – Part 1 is displaying slightly stronger holding power than Catching Fire, the film is still running 22 percent behind the massive $357.50 million 24-day gross of Catching Fire.

Paramount’s Top Five debuted in fourth place with an estimated $7.21 million. The critically acclaimed comedy starring and directed by Chris Rock opened towards the lower end of expectations, though it should be reminded that the film’s location count likely muted its potential a bit this weekend. Top Five opened in a modest 979 locations, which gave the film a promising per-location average of $7,365 for the frame. Top Five debuted 27 percent ahead of the $5.67 million start of the Chris Rock led I Think I Love My Wife back in 2007. Top Five will hope to see its strong critical reviews transfer into strong word of mouth going forward. Paramount will be expanding the film into additional locations over the next two weeks.

Top Five grossed an estimated $2.52 million on Friday, jumped 14 percent on Saturday to take in $2.89 million and is estimated to fall 38 percent on Sunday to gross $1.80 million. That gives Top Five an estimated opening weekend to Friday ratio of 2.86 to 1. The film’s rating on CinemaScore will be released after the film expands into wider release.

Computer animated films Penguins of Madagascar and Big Hero 6 claimed third and fifth place respectively with estimated weekend takes of $7.3 million and $6.15 million. Fox’s Penguins of Madagascar was down 33 percent from last weekend, while Big Hero 6 was down a slim 24 percent. Both films likely got an extra boost this weekend from family audiences who wanted to catch either film before The Battle of the Five Armies, Fox’s Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb and Sony’s Annie all enter the marketplace in the next week. Respective total grosses stand at a strong $185.33 million for Big Hero 6 in 38 days and at an underwhelming $58.84 million for Penguins of Madagascar in 19 days.

Turning towards the platform front, Fox Searchlight’s Wild took in an estimated $1.55 million from 116 locations. That gave the critically acclaimed drama starring Reese Witherspoon a healthy per-location average of $13,362 for the frame. Wild has grossed a promising $2.42 million in 12 days of platform release.

The Weinstein Company’s The Imitation Game continued its slow expansion with an estimated $875,136 from 25 locations. The awards season hopeful starring Benedict Cumberbatch generated a strong per-location average of $35,005 for the frame. The 17-day platform total for The Imitation Game stands at $2.00 million.

Elsewhere in platform release, Warner’s Inherent Vice debuted with an estimated $330,000 from 5 locations in New York and Los Angeles. While that gave the Paul Thomas Anderson directed film a very solid per-location average of $66,000 this weekend, it also represented a much slower start out of the gate than the $736,311 5 location launch of 2012’s The Master. Inherent Vice may still have more mainstream appeal as it expands than The Master did, but this weekend’s start wasn’t the most promising initial sign. Anticipation for Inherent Vice has likely been limited somewhat by the film’s mixed critical reviews (especially by Anderson’s lofty standards).

Saturday Update: Fox’s Exodus: Gods and Kings bowed to $8.63 million on Friday, including Thursday’s $1.2 million evening gross. Not only does that fall behind Noah‘s $15.2 million opening day, it also trails the $9.5 million first day take of Son of God (also from Fox).

All things considered, this is a slow start for the estimated $140 million production, although it can be argued that holiday legs and overseas returns still have some potential to help out matters. Unfortunately though, early word of mouth is struggling with a 40 percent Rotten Tomatoes user score and an even weaker 28 percent from critics. Given the slew of competition ahead in the coming weeks, Exodus may struggle to reach $100 million domestically before the end of its run.

This early performance could be indicative of some push-back from faith-based audiences, who were turned away by the controversial Noah flick after a string of other Christian-themed box office hits this year. Notably, the most “Hollywood” of these faith-based films have proven to be the ones dividing audiences.

For Exodus: Gods and Kings‘ opening weekend, BoxOffice is currently projecting $24.4 million. In fairness, that’s not too far below pre-release industry expectations.

In second place yesterday, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 added $3.79 million, off 43 percent from last Friday. The blockbuster’s total now stands a hair under $268 million. BoxOffice projects a $12.5 million frame.

Paramount’s Top Five started with a solid $2.5 million from 979 locations yesterday. The Chris Rock pic has garnered very positive reviews (89 percent), and early word of mouth (78 percent audience score) suggests the film could be finding an audience as well. BoxOffice projects a $7 million opening weekend. Paramount plans to expand the film over the next two weeks, at which time CinemaScore demographic information will be provided.

Penguins of Madagascar took in $1.57 million to start its third weekend, down 35 percent from last Friday. The toon spin-off’s domestic haul now stands at $53.1 million. BoxOffice projects a $7.1 million weekend.

In fifth place, Interstellar added $1.49 million yesterday. Christopher Nolan’s film now stands at $162.8 million domestically. BoxOffice projects a $5.4 million weekend.

Meanwhile, The Theory of Everything expanded into semi-wide release in 1,220 locations and pulled $737,000 on Friday. Its current total is $15.36 million. BoxOffice projects a $2.5 million frame.

The Imitation Game moved into 25 locations yesterday and took in $247,000 for a healthy $9,880 per-theater average. The film’s total now stands at $1.37 million. BoxOffice projects an $890,000 weekend.

Last but not least, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice bowed in 5 locations to the tune of $128,000 for a $25,570 per-theater average. That’s noticeably behind The Master‘s $242,127 opening day in 5 theaters two years ago, but generally in line with Birdman‘s $135,602 first day (4 theaters) back in October. BoxOffice projects a weekend close to $390,000.

Follow BoxOffice on Sunday for official studio weekend estimates.