TIME movies

The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s Box Office Won’t Amaze Marvel

A domestic opening weekend haul of $92 million seems like a lot of money, until it's compared with the cash earned by earlier Marvel movies that opened on the same weekend

The webbed wonder is back, in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The second in a proposed four Marvel Entertainment movies about Peter Parker, the teen blessed or cursed with arachnid DNA, ASM2 earned $92 million at the North American box office, according to preliminary estimates from Sony Pictures. It reaped a B-plus from the CinemaScore polling of early attendees (an A-minus from those younger than 25), attracting a mostly male crowd (61%) and a big share of families (33%). As the front-man for the big summer movie season, Spidey is soaring again.

But how high? $92 million sounds like a nice starting number; and it is, even for a movie that cost at least $250 million to produce and nearly $200 million more on marketing. But amid its lofty competition — previous Marvel epics that opened this weekend — ASM2 is only so-so.

A rebooting, and often a retelling, of the Spider-Man trilogy starring Tobey Maguire and directed by Sam Raimi, which ran from 2002 to 2007, the new series features Brit actor Andrew Garfield as Peter and luscious Emma Stone as his girlfriend Gwen Stacy, under the direction of Marc Webb. The first film in the new series, which opened two years ago on the week of July 4, earned $75 million the first three days (Tuesday to Thursday) and another $62 million that weekend. So comparisons of ASM and ASM2 don’t really apply. The true standard for the new picture is its brethren in the Marvel movie family: the superhero movies of early May.

(SEE: Andrew Garfield gushing over Emma Stone’s rap mastery with Jimmy Fallon)

Marvel, the world’s canniest entertainment company, definitively altered the Hollywood calendar a dozen years ago. Before then, the summer movie period began in earnest the weekend before Memorial Day, as it had for a quarter-century, ever since the May 25, 1977, opening of Star Wars. But on May 3, 2002, the original Spider-Man made its debut and earned $114.8 million; it was the first picture to gross more than $100 million in its opening three days, and did so at on a weekend with no holiday and when kids were still in school. Suddenly, the first week in May was the ideal time to launch both an action film and the summer blockbuster season.

The following year, Marvel opened the second X-Men movie, X2: X-Men United, to a robust $85.6 million weekend. And from 2007, every first May weekend has boasted a Marvel movie: Spider-Man 3 ($151.1 million), Iron Man ($98.6 million), X-Men Origins: Wolverine ($85.1 million), Iron Man 2 ($128 million), Thor ($65.7 million), The Avengers ($207.4 million) and, last year, Iron Man Three ($174,1 million).

So, in the Marvel early-May cosmology, ASM2 falls below the almighty Avengers, which still accounts for the biggest opening weekend for any movie, the three Iron Man films and the two Spider-Man episodes released on this date. (Spider-Man 2 opened June 20, 2004, and earned $88.2 million.) The movie’s opening gross also didn’t quite match the $95 million taken in four weeks ago by Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which established the all-time record for a movie in the normally cruelest month of April.

(READ: Corliss’s review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

Ticket prices have risen by nearly a third since 2002, both because of inflation and for surcharges for 3-D and IMAX screenings. So the more exact comparison is in “real dollars.” And in that category, ASM2 is near the bottom of Marvel’s previous openings for this weekend: it beat only the two franchise-starters, Wolverine and Thor, and sequels are supposed to open stronger than the films that birthed them.

Here are the real-dollar domestic grosses, in millions, for Marvel movies opening the first weekend of May:

The Avengers, 5/4/12, $207.4m (original gross) = $211.5m (real dollars)
Iron Man Three, 5/3/13, $174.1m = $183.3m
Spider-Man 3, 5/4/07, $151.1m = $174.8m
Spider-Man, 5/3/02, $114.8m = $157.3m
Iron Man 2, 5/7/10, $128.1m = $129.7m
X2: X-Men United, 5/2/03, $85.6m = $113.0m
Iron Man, 5/2/08, $98.6m = $109.3m
The Amazing Spider-Man 2, $92m = $92m
X-Men Origins: Wolverine, 5/1/09, $85.1m = $90.8m
Thor, 5/6/11, $65.7m = $66.7m

The opening-weekend gross, even for a widely promoted action film with a familiar title and a dedicated fan base, can’t accurately predict the final revenue. Spider-Man, Iron Man and The Avengers all eventually earned at least three times the amount they took in on the first weekend, while Marvel’s Hulk, directed by Ang Lee and released in 2003, earned more money its first three days ($62.1 million) than in the rest of its domestic run ($60.05 million). Deciding they had gone wrong, the Marvel execs ordered up a reboot, The Incredible Hulk, five years later — and it earned almost exactly the same as its disgraced predecessor. But both Hulk movies were released in mid-June, by which time action-film fatigue sets in with audiences deluged for six weeks by movies about muscular guys saving the world.

Make no mistake: in the movie business, it’s the worldwide box office that counts much more than the domestic figures. And in the early global stats, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is doing fine. In its third week of release it has earned $277 million abroad, including a record-breaking opening in India, a nation long resistant to Hollywood films. ASM2 opened in China today (a work day) and earned a record $10.4 million — a terrific start for this huge and growing market. Last summer the sci-fi saga Pacific Rim did bigger business in China ($111.9 million) than in North America ($101.8 million). Marvel must hope that Peter Parker can pick the People’s Republic’s pockets clean.

(READ: Corliss’s review of The Amazing Spider-Man 2)

The company’s other entries took a while to realize their international potential. For the first two films in the original series, the foreign revenue share was just over 50%. With Spider-Man 3 it jumped to 62%, and the Amazing reboot amassed 65% of its $752.2-million total take from overseas markets. The biggest blockbusters, like the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and Hobbit franchises, typically earn about two-thirds of their worldwide gross from abroad, and so have Marvel’s recent Thor, Wolverine and Captain America sequels.

With its gaudy early foreign numbers — currently 75% of the total gross — ASM2 looks to do boffo business abroad. Now the movie just has to convince tens of millions of Americans that it is more than just a minor Marvel.

 

TIME Box Office Report

Captain America Clips Rio 2‘s Wings

The cartoon birds got buzz-sawed by a Marvel superhero, who came back from second place most of the weekend to triumph in the end with $41.4 million. Draft Day, starring Kevin Costner as an NFL GM trying to land the top college player, pulled in just $9.75 million

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Too bad today isn’t Easter. Captain America: The Winter Soldier pulled a near-miraculous Sunday-morning resurrection, coming back from second place most of the weekend to defeat the new Rio 2, another sequel to a 2011 movie. The squeaky-cleanest of Marvel’s Avengers copped $41.4 million at North American theaters, according to preliminary studio estimates, while the Fox/Blue-Sky cartoon snagged $39 million.

Budgeted at a mediumish $103 million, the PG-rated Rio 2 reunites two rare Spix’s macaws (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway) for a trip to the Brazilian rain forest, where the male exhibits city-bird neuroses, the female bonds with her country-bird family and the entire brood is imperiled by environmentally rapacious loggers. The 3-D animated feature gleaned an airborne “A” rating from the CinemaScore survey of its young fanciers — as we’ve noted before, kids tend to give the grades they’d like to receive at school — but couldn’t even match the $39.2 million notched by the first Rio, three Aprils back. Its real strength is abroad, where it has earned $124.3 million, or 76% of its total revenue.

(READ: Why Rio 2 is a soaring musical but a flightless comedy)

Stateside, though, what slammed into Rio 2 like an eco-predator’s earthmover? Blame Saturday. Action movies typically earn a high proportion of their weekend haul on Thursday nights and Fridays, while animated features find their strength at Saturday matinees (when families show up). Three years ago, on its second weekend, Captain America: The First Avenger rose a modest 26% from Friday to Saturday, while the original Rio enjoyed a 69% leap on its first Saturday. But this weekend the norm was reversed: The Winter Solider jumped an impressive 49%, and Rio 2 a mere 28%. That’s how the red-white-and-blue muscle man beat the blue macaws.

CA:TWS did fall from 56% its first weekend — a drop less than The First Avenger’s 61% and the 2008’s The Incredible Hulk (60%) but more severe than those for the first Iron Man (48%), the first Thor (47%) and 2012 megahit The Avengers (50%). Among the Core Four of Marvel’s Avengers team, 56% is a middling sophomore slump. But the new movie, benefitting from its positioning as a sort of sequel to The Avengers, has already earned $159 million in 10 days in North America, just shy of the total domestic take ($176.7 million) of the first Captain America. Abroad, it’s gangbusters: $317.7 million in fewer than weeks, or more than $100 million above what The First Avenger managed in its entire overseas run.

(READ: Corliss’s review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

Among other new releases, the horror film Oculus (no relation to the virtual-reality headset company) earned a preternatural $13 million on a thrifty $5-million budget. Its CinemaScore was a bogeyman’s C, about average for R-rated thrillers. The more expensive Draft Day, starring Kevin Costner as an NFL GM trying to land the best college player, pulled in just $9.75 million, though it aced a CinemaScore of A for females, B-plus for males. It could hang around until the real draft day, on May 8; but, as a business investment, the movie is fourth and long.

In theology-related cinema, the low-budget God’s Not Dead continued to shadow the big-budget Noah (aka The Creator’s All Wet). The Christian-fundamentalist movie, made for just $2 million, is also battling The Grand Budapest Hotelfor the year’s top gross among indie productions. Both have earned around $40 million, which in the nano-world of off-Hollywood movies is a bonanza.

Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston as a rock-star vampire and his undead bride, led this weekend’s specialty releases with a smart $97,000 at four theaters. David Gordon Green’s rural drama Joe, with Nicolas Cage as an ex-con uncomfortably mentoring a troubled teen, earned $106,000 at 48 venues — a per-screen average of $2,208, or less than a tenth of the Jarmusch film’s.

(READ: Corliss’s reviews of Only Lovers Left Alive and Joe)

The Railway Man, a post-World War II trauma thriller headlined by Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman, opened to $64,500 on four screens. And Cuban Fury, a salsa dance comedy with Nick Frost, Rashida Jones and Chris O’Dowd, broke a leg on its way to a lame $550,000 at 79 theaters. That factors to about $700, or 80 people, at each venue for the whole weekend. In second-week action, the minimalist sci-fi mystery Under the Skin, with Scarlett Johansson as an alien sent to Scotland to kill human males, expanded from four to 54 theaters and scared up $309,o00.

(READ: Rashida Jones on Cuban Fury — and Selfies)

BURYING THE LEDE: This is the last of my weekly box-office reports: 262, plus some specials, over five years. The gig has been fun and instructive, for me anyway. But as a believer in the wisdom of statistics — for baseball players and movie grosses — I can’t justify the effort and bandwidth for a column that attracts fewer readers than the stories I wrote for my high school newspaper (and St. Joe’s Prep did not have a huge student body). I may occasionally write about certain box-office trends, and perhaps contribute seasonal wrapups, but for now this is it. Look for me to do more coverage of show business news items and recommendations of new and old movies outside the B.O. top 10.

I enthusiastically recommend the box office columns of Tom Brueggemann at Thompson on Hollywood and Scott Mendelson at Forbes, both of which are posted on Saturdays and Sundays. Brueggemann, who draws on decades of experience as a film-booking executive, always provides a sensible sense of the long view — wisely wary, for example, of hype about record-breaking grosses that doesn’t consider ticket-price inflation. Mendelson, who grins mischievously from his Forbes photo like a young John McEnroe, is firstest with the mostest in his Saturday B.O. insights. You should be as happy reading their work as Mary Corliss will be to find her husband again available for Sunday strolls and museum visits.

Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, $41.4 million; $159 million, second week
2. Rio 2, $39 million, first weekend
3. Oculus, $12 million, first weekend
4. Draft Day, $9.75 million, first weekend
5. Divergent, $7.5 million; $124.9 million, fourth week
6. Noah, $7.45 million; $84.9 million, third week
7. God’s Not Dead, $4.5 million; $40.7 million, fourth week
8. The Grand Budapest Hotel, $4.05 million; $39.5 million, sixth week
9. Muppets Most Wanted, $2.2 million; $45.7 million, fourth week
10. Mr. Peabody & Sherman, $1.8 million; $105.2 million, sixth week

TIME Box Office Report

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Is a Spring Sensation

Marvel's latest movie, starring Chris Evans as the eponymous hero alongside heavy-duty stars like Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Redford, clocked in at $96.2 million on its opening weekend, the highest-ever for April

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He may deserve a promotion to General America. Steve Rogers, the pure-hearted war hero of 1940s comic books, proved his staying power this weekend, as Marvel Studios’ Captain America: The Winter Soldier liberated the multiplexes of North America with a patriotic $96.2 million, according to preliminary studio estimates. The Captain already has his bars; now he should get his stars.

As much a political thriller as a special-effects fantasy, The Winter Soldier stars Chris Evans (who previously served two tours playing Johnny Storm the Human Torch in Marvel’s Fantastic Four movies) and fellow Avengers Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, plus Robert Redford in his first-ever action adventure. In addition to its domestic bonanza, CA:TWS did gung-ho business abroad. Since opening 12 days ago, the picture has earned $207.1 million in foreign markets, including $39.2 million from China. The early worldwide total stands at $303.3 million.

(READ: Corliss’s review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

Budgeted at $170 million, this latest installment in Marvel’s series of Avengers movies registered the strongest weekend opening for any film released in April, topping the $86.2-million mark set three years ago by another potent franchise episode, Fast Five. Buoyed by the critics’ enthusiasm and a sterling “A” rating from the CinemaScore survey of first-nighters, CA:TWS managed to corral two demographics that Hollywood has recently found elusive: males (64% of early attendees) and young adults (69% were between 18 and 49). It also earned about 40% of its take from 3-D and IMAX engagements, which just meant more money for Marvel.

(READ: How Women and Kids Replaced Young Males at the Box Office)

In 2002, Marvel effectively turned the first weekend in May into the official launch time for Hollywood’s rich summer season, when the original Spider-Man became the first movie to open to more than $100 million domestic. With The Winter Soldier, the Disney-owned studio has stretched summer to early spring. In this, the cruelest month, The Winter Soldier achieved the top domestic debut for a non-May Marvel movie. The previous highest gross for the first week of April was the 2009 Fast and Furious — fourth in that series — with $71 million.

Pumped up by its semi-sequel status to the global smash The Avengers, the new movie easily exceeded the $65.1-million opening for its 2011 predecessor Captain America: The First Avenger, which ultimately accumulated a worldwide total of $370.6 million. CA:TWS is more than three-quarters of the way to reaching that mark; it has already earned more abroad than the first movie’s $193.9 million.

(READ: Corliss’s review of Captain America: The First Avenger)

Note that the subtitle of the first Captain America movie was a teaser commercial for the all-star The Avengers due the following spring. Marvel created stand-alone films for various Avengers heroes (the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor), then forged them into a combative super-team in The Avengers, the 2012 spectacle that grossed more than $1.5 billion worldwide. Since then, the third Iron Man movie and the second Thor have benefited from being presented as extensions to the core blockbuster — a new chapter in a grand saga. CA:TWS also got the Avengers bump.

(SEE: First photos from the next Avengers movie, Age of Ultron)

Let’s say this about Kevin Feige and his cohorts at the Marvel movie operation: they are really smart. Their expertise in making and marketing their synergistic stories has given them 12 of the 42 pictures ever to tally an opening weekend of $85 million or more. For those keeping score: The Avengers, $207.4m, May 2012; Iron Man Three, $174.1m, May 2013; Spider-Man 3, $151.1m, May 2007; Iron Man 2, $128.1m, May 2010; Spider-Man, $114m.8m, May 2002; X-Men: The Last Stand, $102.8m, May 2006; Iron Man, $98.6m, May 2008; Captain America: The Winter Soldier, $96.2m, Apr. 2014; Spider-Man 2, $88.2m, May 2004; Thor: The Dark World, $85.7m, Nov. 2013; X2: X-Men United, $85.6m, May 2003; and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, $85.1m, May 2009.

(READ: Marvel’s Super-Hero-Sized Plan to Dominate Movies)

With Captain America resplendent, most other movies took a dive. Noah dropped a waterfall-steep 61% from last weekend, to $17 million. Darren Aronofsky’s “least biblical biblical movie” is suffering at the domestic box office from its very low “C” CinemaScore—translation: people didn’t like it, and are telling other people—though it is doing well abroad, earning 60% of its $178.5-million worldwide revenue overseas. Divergent, which hopes to be the next Twilight or Hunger Games Girl Power franchise, reached $114 million in its third weekend, with most foreign markets still to open. Mr. Peabody & Sherman passed $100 million but dropped to seventh place, making this the first weekend since last Sep. 20-22 with no animated feature among the top five finishers.

(SEE: Behind the Scenes of Divergent with Shailene Woodley)

Two independent movies of widely disparate intent took the fourth and fifth slots. The Christian-themed God’s Not Dead, dramatizing a debate on the Almighty’s existence, kept surging in its third week, earning $7.7 million in 1,758 theaters, for a $32.5-million total. And Wes Anderson’s elegantly retro comedy The Grand Budapest Hotel amassed $6.3 million at 1,263 venues, bringing its five-week cache to $33.4 million. The Anderson film has been stoked by rhapsodic reviews, God’s Not Dead by a canny campaign aimed at fundamentalists, and both pictures by hot word-of-mouth from their (almost mutually exclusive) constituents. That’s the recipe for a hard-won indie hit.

(READ: Corliss’s rave for The Grand Budapest Hotel)

For moviegoers who can’t get enough of The Winter Soldier’s Johansson, Under the Skin offered a very different study in Scarlett. Ostensibly a sci-fi horror thriller about an extraterrestrial who takes sultry human form to kill male Earthlings, Jonathan Glazer’s murky art film goes heavy on the atmosphere, light on genre pay-offs. But it shows plenty of its star’s body, and that publicity, plus very generous reviews, helped Under the Skin to an impressive start: $140,000 at four theaters. Curiosity should keeps the customers coming, to see Marvel’s Black Widow as an alien widow-maker.

(READ: Will Scarlett Johansson Get Under Your Skin?)

Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, $96.2 million, first weekend
2. Noah, $17 million; $72.3 million, second week
3. Divergent, $13 million; $114 million, third week
4. God’s Not Dead, $7.7 million; $32.5 million, third week
5. The Grand Budapest Hotel, $6.3 million; $33.4 million, fifth week
6. Muppets Most Wanted, $6.3 million; $42.1 million, third week
7. Mr. Peabody & Sherman, $5.3 million; $102.2 million, fifth week
8. Sabotage, $1.9 million; $8.8 million, second week
9. Need for Speed, $1.8 million; $40.8 million, fourth week
10. Non-Stop, $1.8 million; $88.1 million, sixth week

TIME Box Office Report

Audiences Say Yes to Noah, ‘Hasta la Vista, Baby’ to Arnold

Noah
Russell Crowe in a scene from "Noah." Niko Tavernise—Paramount Pictures/AP

The biblical drama directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Russell Crowe rises above a flood of controversy to earn a $44 million opening, while Arnold Schwarzenegger's new movie, Sabotage, sinks at $5.3 million

God gave Paramount the rainbow sign. In less biblical terms, moviegoers flocked to Noah, propelling Darren Aronofsky’s controversial retelling of the Flood story to a $44 million first weekend at North American theaters, according to preliminary estimates. The word was not so good for another ancient figure of almost biblical stature: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s new movie tanked.

Starring Russell Crowe as the Patron of the First Ark, Noah had affronted some Christian literalists with its giant rock men, its weird visions and the occasionally dark motives of its protagonist. But the film corralled enough religious leaders, including Pope Francis (with whom Crowe snagged an audience), to salve canonical objections. More important, the noise, whether in praise or condemnation, gave the risky venture reams of free publicity that paid off here and abroad, where Noah has earned another $51.1 million. Costing a hefty $130 million to produce, the movie has a prayer of achieving Hollywood’s version of a papal blessing: the black ink of profit on its ledger.

(MORE: Corliss Reviews Noah)

Attracting an audience that was split evenly between men and women, but skewed older — 74% were over the age of 25 — Noah got pasted with a toxic C rating in the CinemaScore survey of first-nighters. Of recent big-budget entries, only The Wolf of Wall Street posted a score that low. But two things: 63% of those polled rated Noah A or B, 23% C and 14% D or F, indicating that the rating is closer to a B or B-minus. And if it equals the nearly $400 million worldwide gross of Martin Scorsese’s coke-broker drama, Aronofsky and Paramount will say hallelujah.

(MORE: Seven Other Movies Based on the Bible)

Fundamentalist Christians proved their clout by sustaining God’s Not Dead. The no-budget movie that debates the existence of the Almighty (and guess who wins) opened last weekend to $9.2 million on 790 screens; this time it added 400 screens and held steady at $9.1 million. It should easily match the mid-$30 million grosses of the 2008 Fireproof and the 2011 Courageous, proving that Bible Belters can be the most enthusiastic members of the indie-film community. When they see the movie light, they go.

(MORE: The Man Who Helps Hollywood Get Religion)

Elsewhere in the top 10, Divergent, the Twilight/Hunger Games wannabe, fell 51% from its winning total last weekend to secure second place. In 10 days the YA adventure has earned $95.3 million, or a bit more than the $94.9 million that the animated feature Mr. Peabody & Sherman, another recent winner, has amassed in 24 days. Muppets Most Wanted, in third place, fell just 33% from its opening weekend, to $11.4 million; but the Jim Henson brand can’t guarantee a substantial theatrical hit. Per theater, the weekend’s biggest tally behind Noah was Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, which earned $8.8 million in about a thousand venues.

(MORE: Corliss’s Rave for The Grand Budapest Hotel)

With these films appealing to kids, young women, Christians and art-house denizens, the male audience — once the most cherished and reliable of all Hollywood demographics — should have made a red-meat item like Schwarzenegger’s Sabotage a smash. But the R-rated killer thriller, with Ahnold as the boss of a rogue DEA team, could summon only $5.3 million. By almost any standard, that is the puniest of the muscle man’s career, dating back to the original Conan the Barbarian in 1982.

(MORE: Corliss Reviews Sabotage)

By comparison, the $6.3 million opening for last year’s The Last Stand, Schwarzenegger’s return to starring roles after two terms as California’s governor, seems almost lofty. That film eventually earned $12.1 million domestic and $36.3 million in foreign markets, where customers still have some nostalgic love for the awesome Austrian, now 66. With help from abroad, maybe Sabotage, budgeted at a thrifty $35 million, will claw its way to break-even. But in North America, when Arnold says, “I’ll be back,” moviegoers say, “Don’t bother.”

Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:

1. Noah, $44 million, first weekend
2. Divergent, $26.5 million; $95.3 million, second week
3. Muppets Most Wanted, $11.4 million; $33.2 million, second week
4. Mr. Peabody & Sherman, $9.5 million; $94.9 million, fourth week
5. God’s Not Dead, $9.1 million; $22 million, second week
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel, $8.8 million; $24.5 million, fourth week
7. Sabotage, $5.3 million, first weekend
8. Need for Speed, $4.3 million; $37.8 million, third week
9. 300: Rise of an Empire, $4.3 million; $101.1 million, fourth week
10. Non-Stop, $4.1 million; $85.2 million, fifth week

TIME Box Office Report

Divergent Is No Twilight But Starts Strong, While Muppets Are Not Wanted

Divergent
Jaap Buitendijk—Summit Entertainment

The latest Young Adult Girl Power movie registers $56 million for the year's second highest opening weekend behind only The LEGO Movie, while Hollywood may want to retire Kermit and company after Muppets Most Wanted doesn't bring home the green

Is Beatrice Prior the new Bella Swan? Can she kick ass like Katniss? Or, as Hollywood wants to know, can the dauntless heroine of novelist Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy become the anchor of a multibillion-dollar movie series, as her sister predecessors did with The Twilight Saga and The Hunger Games?

For Lionsgate/Summit, the merged company that birthed the other two franchises, the early returns have to be encouraging. Divergent scored $56 million in its first weekend at North American theaters, according to preliminary studio estimates. That’s the strongest debut for a live-action picture so far this year; the only higher opening, $69 million, was for the animated feature The LEGO Movie. So dominant was Divergent that it outgrossed the next five films in this weekend’s top 10 — Muppets Most Wanted, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, 300: Rise of an Empire, God’s Not Dead and Need for Speed — which earned a total of $53.2 million. Talk about Girl Power.

(READ: The Cast of Divergent Explains the Lure of Dystopian Stories)

Budgeted at $85 million and starring Shailene Woodley as Beatrice, Divergent didn’t match the 2008 opening of the first Twilight film ($69.6 million, which would be about $81 million in today’s dollars). It will finish nearly $100 million behind the sensational $152.5-million premiere of The Hunger Games two years ago this weekend. But the Divergent opening is strong enough for Lionsgate to greenlight two or three more movies to complete Roth’s story. The early audience — 59% female, 50% under the age of 25 — awarded Divergent a golden “A” in the CinemaScore survey of first-nighters. Those under 18 gave the movie a giddy A-plus.

(READ: Why Hollywood Desperately Needs Shailene Woodley)

The CinemaScore for Muppets Most Wanted was a saggier B-plus, a notch below the “A” for the 2011 comedy that relaunched the movie career of the Henson Company’s kid-friendly puppets. Most Wanted, produced for about $50 million, scored a disappointing opening gross of $16.5 million, far behind the $29.2 million of The Muppets. The audience for the new film was predominantly female (54%) and young (54% under 25, 70% families). Since the last movie did less business abroad than at home, Most Wanted can’t count on a robust foreign market. For Kermit, Miss Piggy and the gang, it may be back to the sock drawer.

(SEE: 10 Celebrity Friends of The Muppets)

While Most Wanted was playing on about 4,600 screens, the evangelical drama God’s Not Dead appeared on just 850, yet earned $8.6 million, or more than half of the Muppets gross. A severely belated, fairly belligerent response to the famous 1966 TIME cover story “Is God Dead?”, the movie sets up a debate on the Deity’s existence between a winsome Christian college student (Shane Harper of the Disney Channel’s Good Luck Charlie) and a sneering atheist professor (Kevin Sorbo, considerably bulked down since his days as TV’s Hercules). No Spoiler Alert: the title tells you who wins.

(READ: The “Is God Dead?” cover story by subscribing to TIME)

Produced on the cheap in Baton Rouge, La., the movie expands its targets from atheism to Islam. The daughter of one strict Muslim secretly listens to podcasts by Billy Graham’s son Franklin, the same preacher who recently found Vladimir Putin’s view of gay people more Christian than Barack Obama’s.

Whatever the theological skew, God’s Not Dead underlines the niche popularity of fundamentalist movies, which are among the most popular and profitable of all independent films. In 2008, without anyone much noticing, the Bible-thumping Fireproof, budgeted at $800,000, earned $33.5 million.

(READ: Richard Corliss’s review of Fireproof)

And don’t forget that Son of God, the very reverent Jesus story that had played in a longer version on the History Channel, has earned $55.6 million in theaters. Will that impressive number be topped by Noah, the $125-million saga that its director, Darren Aronofsky, has called “the least biblical biblical film ever made”? We’ll get the first clues when it opens next weekend, amid some vocal resistance from the U.S. Christian right and from Muslim countries such as Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, which have banned the movie. (Wait till they see God’s Not Dead.)

(READ: Noah’s Russell’s Crowe Meets the Pope)

On the indie scene, Secular Division, Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel continued mightily, earning $6.7 million on about 600 screens for a $11,300 per-screen average, the weekend’s best among any film playing in 10 or more theaters. (God’s Not Dead pulled $10,100 per-screen.) The documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, about the Chilean director’s mid-1970s attempt to film Frank Herbert’s science-fiction classic, summoned $36,700 at three venues. And Lars Von Trier’s Nymph()maniac Vol. 1, despite or because of all the commotion about its explicit sexuality, had a flaccid $175,000 opening in 25 theaters. The film is also available on pay-per-view, for what its distributor, Magnolia, calls “a really great VOD take” — though what that take is, Magnolia won’t say.

(READ: Corliss’s reviews of Jodorowsky’s Dune and Nymph()maniac Vol. 1)

Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:

1. Divergent, $56 million, first weekend
2. Muppets Most Wanted, $16.5 million, first weekend
3. Mr. Peabody & Sherman, $11.7 million; $81 million, third week
4. 300: Rise of an Empire, $8.7 million; $93.8 million, third week
5. God’s Not Dead, $8.6 million, first weekend
6. Need for Speed, $7.8 million; $30.4 million, second week
7. The Grand Budapest Hotel, $6.75 million; $13 million, third week
8. Non-Stop, $6.3 million; $78.6 million, fourth week
9. The LEGO Movie, $4.1 million; $243.4 million, seventh week
10. Tyler Perry’s The Single Moms Club, $3.1 million; $12.9 million, second week

TIME movies

Mr. Peabody Outraces Need for Speed

Film Review Mr Peabody & Sherman
This image released by DreamWorks Animation shows Sherman, voiced by Max Charles, from left, Penny, voiced by Ariel Winter, and Mr. Peabody, voiced by Ty Burell, in a scene from "Mr Peabody & Sherman." Dreamworks Animation/AP

The DreamWorks animated flick about the intelligent beagle and his human companion beat out the Aaron Paul car-crash thriller at the weekend box office, raking in about $21.2 million based on preliminary studio estimates

The dog beat the Mustang. In its second frame, Mr. Peabody & Sherman outraced the race-car newcomer Need for Speed to win the weekend at North American theaters. The DreamWorks animated feature about a brilliant beagle and his pet boy earned $21.2 million, according to preliminary studio estimates.

Benefitting from the beginning of spring break, which has sprung nearly 20% of kids from school, Peabody fell just 34% from last weekend. Including $85 million from foreign markets, the movie’s 10-day total is just under $150 million. Peabody’s holding power underlines the current box-office magic of animated features, which have won four of the past six weekends—three of them snagged by The LEGO Movie, now at $236.9 million. Another cartoon fantasy, Disney’s Frozen, remained in the top 10 for its 16th consecutive week and has amassed $1.026 billion worldwide.

(READ: Our review of Mr. Peabody & Sherman)

The weekend favorite in the judgment of most movie touts, Need for Speed opened fairly well, with $1.1 million on Thursday night and another $5.5 million Friday. But like a flashy NASCAR speedster experiencing engine trouble in the middle of the big race, Speed sputtered a bit and finished at $17.8 million, behind both Peabody and last weekend’s champ, 300: Rise of an Empire, at $19.1 million.

(READ: Why 300: Rise of an Empire is bloody good)

Need for Speed is based on the 1994 Electronic Arts video game, which has sold about $4 billion worth of units. In the movie version, Aaron Paul (Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad) plays a car jockey—a kind of nerd for speed—who drives his retooled Ford Mustang cross-country with the auto motive of revenge against a guy who stole his girl and killed his best friend. Budgeted at $66 million, Speed was intended to launch a franchise in the spirit of Fast & Furious. Instead, it duplicated the soft results of other movies inspired by video games: Doom, Max Payne, Hitman. To Deadline Hollywood’s Anita Busch wrote, this proved “that gamers are hermits and aren’t bringing friends (do they have any that aren’t digitally created in chat boxes?).”

More than half of those who did forsake their consoles in their parents’ basement for the communal warmth of the multiplex were between the ages of 18 and 34. In years past, a majority of young adults usually translated into a hit movie. These days, though, that group has ceded power to the kids and their parents who have turned so many animated features into blockbusters.

(READ: The cinematic jolt of Need for Speed)

Ninety percent of the theaters playing the DreamWorks live-action film showed it in 3-D, but only 43% of customers bothered to pay the surcharge. The audience, which gave the movie a B-plus rating as polled by CinemaScore, had a curious demographic breakdown: 70% were male, standard for a macho action film, but 66% were identified as “couples”—which implies that at least 4% of the date-night duos were gay men. Who knew so many of them were car buffs?

Speed did much better abroad, where it earned $45.6 million. In fact, the picture registered a higher gross over the weekend in China, $21.1 million, than it did in North America. The second-biggest foreign take, $5.5 million, was in Russia, and the fourth-highest, $1.9 million, in Malaysia, where the locals could use some diversion from the news of a lost airplane to enjoy a movie about car crashes.

(SEE: The Need for Speed trailer)

The other new wide release, Tyler Perry’s The Good Moms Club, stumbled to an $8.3 weekend—the lowest opening for any of the 15 movies written by the multitasking mogul. Not screened for critics, the drama received an indulgent A-minus CinemaScore rating from an audience that fit Perry’s demographic: 79% female, 80% 25 or older and predominantly African-American.

Veronica Mars, the big-screen version of the TV cult favorite, raised its $5.7-million budget from more than 91,000 angels on Kickstarter. The opening weekend take of about $2 million, divided by an average ticket price of $10, suggests that each investor took a friend, and nobody else went. Or maybe the movie’s backers watched it on VOD, where it also opened; no numbers from On Demand are available.

(READ: A review by Veronica Mars investor Megan Gibson)

Veronica Mars was playing in 291 theaters, giving it a $7,000 per-screen average. In just 66 venues, Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel earned $3.5 million, for a sensational $55,000 PSA. We grant that impressive grosses in limited engagements don’t predict a movie’s wider success, but Budapest has a shot at matching the domestic gross of Anderson’s biggest recent hit, Moonrise Kingdom ($45.5 million) and possibly even of The Royal Tenenbaums ($52.4 million in 2001, which would be $75.4 million in today’s dollars). Fingers crossed for the year’s finest new movie.

(READ: Corliss’s mash note to The Grand Budapest Hotel)

In art-house openings, Bad Words, the malicious little comedy directed by and starring Justin Bateman, managed $120,000 on six screens, while Enemy, a mystery thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a history teacher who meets his exact double, cadged $18,000 in one theater. Or could it be… two theaters?

(READ: Our reviews of Bad Words and Enemy)

Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:

1. Mr. Peabody & Sherman, $21.2 million; $63.2 million, second week
2. 300: Rise of an Empire, $19.1 million; $78.3 million, second week
3. Need for Speed, $17.8 million, first weekend
4. Non-Stop, $10.6 million; $68.8 million, third week
5. Tyler Perry’s The Single Moms Club, $8.3 million, first weekend
6. The LEGO Movie, $7.7 million; $236.9 million, sixth week
7. Son of God, $5.4 million; $50.9 million, third week
8. The Grand Budapest Hotel, $3.6 million; $4.8 million, second week
9. Frozen, $2.1 million; $396.4 million, 17th week
10. Veronica Mars, $2 million, first weekend

TIME movies

300: Rise of an Empire Throws Mr. Peabody to the Dogs

300 Rise of an Empire
Warner Bros.

The sex-and-gore Greek epic 300: Rise of an Empire took home $45 million this weekend, handily topping DreamWorks' Mr. Peabody & Sherman, an animated romp through space and time that features a brilliant beagle and his pet boy

In Apocalypse Now, Robert Duvall’s Lieut. Col. Kilgore declared that napalm smells like “victory.” This weekend 300: Rise of an Empire, depicting an ancient Greece-vs.-Persia naval battle with plenty of kill and gore, sailed to victory with $45 million, according to preliminary studio estimates. In second place, with $32.5 million, was DreamWorks’ animated feature Mr. Peabody & Sherman, which includes a flashback to the Trojan War. At the North American box office, it was a good week to be Greek.

Neither movie’s opening matched those of certain esteemed predecessors, but the studios could provide explanations and/or excuses. Exploding on screens exactly seven years ago, Zack Snyder’s R-rated 300 earned a beefcakey $70.9 million on its way to more than $200 million domestic and a $456-million global gross. Rise of an Empire, which Snyder produced and co-wrote but did not direct, cost more to make ($110 million to $65 million) and earned less, despite the ticket-price advantages of 3-D and IMAX, which accounted for about three-quarters of its weekend take.

(READ: Our review of 300: Rise of an Empire)

Back in 2007, the core audience for blockbusters was young males, whose tastes were a defining factor in the kinds of movies Hollywood made. If that demographic hasn’t quite deserted the multiplexes for video games and social media, it is a much less reliable factor. Also, today’s action fare tends to be of the tamer, PG-13- rated variety; and Empire is a “hard R,” with bloodbaths galore and luscious Eva Green as a smoldering dominatrix of the Aegean.

So it’s a significant achievement that a male-oriented sex-and-violence epic with no stars can grab $45 million. Empire registered the strongest opening for an R-rated film since the early summer of 2012, when Seth MacFarlane’s Ted grossed $54.4 million. The new movie received a middling “B” CinemaScore from first-nighters, who skewed 62% male (the audience for the first 300 was even more lopsided, at 72% male) and nearly a third of attendees in the old, golden age group of 25 to 35. Empire also sizzled abroad, cadging a fast $87.8 million from 58 foreign markets. Director Noam Murro can’t yet proclaim Victory, but his movie has a fighting chance to be a midlevel worldwide hit.

(READ: Reviews of the original 300 by Lev Grossman and Richard Corliss)

Mr. Peabody & Sherman, based on the “Peabody’s Improbable History” segment created in 1959 by Ted Key for the TV cartoon series Rocky and His Friends, opened well below the $43.6 million for The Croods a year ago. But that DreamWorks entry benefited from a hunger for animated features; the last to hit No. 1 was Wreck-It Ralph four months before. This year The LEGO Movie was at the top of the charts three of the last four weeks, earning $225 million; and Frozen, released in late Nov. 2013, has made $130 million of its $393.1 million this calendar year. The Disney princess movie has remained in the domestic top 10 for 15 consecutive weeks — topping Avatar’s 14 but well behind Titanic’s 26 — and is now at $1.009 billion worldwide.

(WATCH: Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel bring Frozen to life)

Budgeted at about $125 million, the tale of a genius beagle and his pet boy, careering through ancient history on Peabody’s WABAC machine, played to a predominantly female audience (56%), with 52% over the age of 25 — surprisingly high for an animated feature with a family vibe. Having already earned $65.8 million abroad, for a promising $98.3-million early take, Peabody should keep the DreamWorks fans occupied until the studio’s more likely crowd-pleaser, How to Train Your Dragon 2, opens June 13.

(READ: Our review of Mr. Peabody & Sherman)

Last week’s front runners, Non-Stop and Son of God, fell 47% and 61% respectively — a fairly sturdy hold for the Liam Neeson airplane thriller, a more precipitous dive for the Jesus biopic, but still not bad considering that almost all of Son of God had been widely seen, as part of the miniseries The Bible, last year on the History Channel. In its fifth week, George Clooney’s The Monuments Men has racked up more than $70 million at home, or exactly its production budget; it needs to earn more abroad ($45.4 million so far) if it is to reap real profits.

(READ: Our review of Non-Stop)

12 Years a Slave, a beneficiary of last Sunday’s Oscar win for Best Picture, returned to the top 10 for the first time in four months; it finally cracked $50 million domestic. Five other Best Picture nominees — American Hustle, Gravity, Philomena, The Wolf of Wall Street and Dallas Buyers Club — finished in this week’s top 20. Only Gravity is a worldwide smash ($708.7 million), with Wolf at $375.6 million and Hustle nearing $250 million.

(READ: Our recap of the Oscars)

The big specialty opening was The Grand Budapest Hotel. Wes Anderson’s magical romance of Europe between the wars scored an estimated $800,000 at just four theaters (though on a total of 10 screens at those venues). The $200,000-per-theater average is the highest for such a limited release, besting the $130,500 for the director’s Moonrise Kingdom and the $147,000 for Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, both in 2012. For mighty debuts in limited release, always bet on an Anderson. The bigger gamble — whether Budapest can equal or surpass the $52.4-million domestic total of Wes’s The Royal Tenenbaums from 2001 — comes later. Here’s hoping: if this wonderful movie becomes a popular hit, that would be a victory worth savoring.

Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:

1. 300: Rise of an Empire, $45 million, first weekend
2. Mr. Peabody & Sherman, $32.5 million, first weekend
3. Non-Stop, $15.4 million; $52.1 million, second week
4. The LEGO Movie, $11 million; $225 million, fifth week
5. Son of God, $10 million; $41.5 million, second week
6. The Monuments Men, $3.1 million; $70.6 million, fifth week
7. 3 Days to Kill, $3.1 million; $25.6 million, third week
8. Frozen, $3 million; $393.1 million, 16th week
9. 12 Years a Slave, $2.2 million; $53.1 million, 21st week
10. Ride Along, $2 million; $130 million, eighth week

TIME Box Office Report

‘LEGO’ Gives Its Valentine’s Day Rivals the Kiss-Off

Warner Bros.

Wanrer Bros. is building a massive runaway hit with The LEGO Movie, which is expected to take in $143.8 million in 11 days, an incredible feat for a film that only took $60 million to produce

Yes, the LEGO company produces minifigures of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Also a Valentine Letter Set with bricks that spell “Love You.” But it wasn’t cross-marketing that made The LEGO Movie the No. 1 film of the long holiday weekend that began with Valentine’s Day on Friday and concludes with Presidents’ Day today. It was America’s ardor for a smart, lovable animated feature that has made it the year’s first runaway hit.

On a four-day frame that saw the debuts of three remakes of movies from the 1980s — About Last Night, RoboCop and Endless Love — plus the soppy romance Winter’s Tale, no film could earn even half the money The LEGO Movie will amass by the end of business tonight. Based on the characters and architecture of the Danish toy company, the 3-D cartoon earned $50 million from Friday to Sunday in North American theaters, and is expected to take in another $13.5 million today, for an 11-day domestic total of $143.8 million — an outstanding total for a movie that cost only $60 million to produce, and with even rosier grosses in store.

(READ: Corliss’s review of The LEGO Movie)

Of the rom-coms and rom-drams that opened on Valentine’s Day, About Last Night took Cupid’s arrow to the heart of the bull’s eye. A loose remake of the 1986 Rob Lowe-Demi Moore comedy based on David Mamet’s play Sexual Perversity in Chicago, the new version features an African-American cast headed by star-of-the-moment Kevin Hart, whose action comedy Ride Along is the year’s second highest-grossing movie, at $117.4 million.

(SEE: Kevin Hart share a Lyft car with Ice Cube and Conan O’Brien)

About Last Night actually outgrossed The LEGO Movie on Friday, $12.86 million to $12.84 million. But the Last Night fever quickly subsided: the film earned less on Saturday and Sunday combined ($12.83 million) than on the year’s favorite movie date night. It received a generous A-minus rating in the CinemaScore poll of early attendees, who skewed heavily female (63%) and older (58% were 30 or above). Last Night will end the long weekend with $28.5 million.

For now, Hart is giving the best value for money of any Hollywood star; Ride Along cost a thrifty $25 million, About Last Night about half that. That will change as his asking price escalates. Don’t be surprised if his salary for a romcom next Valentine’s Day is as high as Last Night’s $13-million production budget. In 2015, moguls may look back wistfully to Hart’s bargain rates, and think “About Last Year…”

(READ: Corliss on Kevin Hart in Ride Along)

Endless Love, which updated the 1981 arson romance remembered, if at all, for the theme-song duet by Lionel Richie and Diana Ross, earned $13.2 million in its first three days and $15.1 for the full four — a decent return on a $20-million budget. The pairing of perpetual star-of-the-future Alex Pettyfer (I Am Number Four, Magic Mike) and blond hottie Gabriella Wilde, from Carrie, appealed to a younger demographic: a whopping 80% female and 76% under the age of 25. Translation: teen girls without dates. They awarded the movie an A-minus CinemaScore.

(SEE: Alex Pettyfer sing the “Endless Love” duet with Jimmy Kimmel)

Two movies with much higher price tags had to be considered flops. RoboCop, a remake of director Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 sci-fi hit, cost about $100 million to produce but will earn just $30.3 million for the six days of release since its Wednesday premiere. Joel Kinnaman replaced Paul Weller as the bionic cop, but bland PG-13-rated action couldn’t match the original film’s R-rated violence and cynicism. The audience — 62% male, 64% over 25 — gave it a B-plus CinemaScore.

(READ: Eliana Dockterman’s review of the new RoboCop)

Winter’s Tale, a reincarnation love story based on Mark Helprin’s 1983 novel — the whole weekend was mired in that fun period we might call the Wheeee! Decade — stumbled to an $8.1-million four-day take and looks unlikely to recoup its $46-million production cost. Its leading man, Colin Farrell, also headlined the underperforming remake of Verhoeven’s Total Recall a couple of summers ago, as well as the low-earning Seven Psychopaths and Dead Man Down. Once pegged as top star material, the brooding Irishman can adorn successful films in supporting roles (e.g., Horrible Bosses and Saving Mr. Banks) but doesn’t have the marquee allure to sell a movie to the masses.

(READ: When Colin Farrell was going to be the next big thing — 14 years ago)

Among holdovers, Frozen remained super-cool with another $8.1 million. Released in late November, Disney’s double-princess animated feature has earned $115 million of its $378.1 million domestic take in this calendar year, and bids fair to pass Iron Man Three ($409 million) as the second highest grosser released in 2013 (behind the $423.1 million for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire). Now at $958 million worldwide, Frozen still has not opened in certain markets, including Japan. It could easily become the 18th movie ever to cross the $1 billion threshold in global gross.

(READ: Lily Rothman on Frozen’s Hot Following)

Can The LEGO Movie reach that rarified atmosphere? So far it has earned $51.2 million abroad, but hasn’t yet premiered in many Western European countries where LEGO is the most popular toy brand. Given its sustained success in North America and its considerable potential abroad, the movie could built itself one big brick hit house.

Here are the Monday estimates of the Valentine’s-Presidents’ weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, with totals for Friday-to-Sunday (three days) and Friday-to-Monday (four days), as reported by Box Office Mojo:

1. The LEGO Movie, $50 million, three days; $63.5 million, four days; $143.8 million, second week
2. About Last Night, $25.7 million, three days; $28.5 million, four days
3. RoboCop, $21.7 million, three days; $25.6 million, four days; $30.3 million, six days (opened Wednesday)
4. The Monuments Men, $15.5 million, three days; $18 million, four days; $46.2 million, second week
5. Endless Love, $13.2 million, three days; $15.1 million, four days
6. Ride Along, $8.7 million, three days; $10 million, four days; $117.4 million, fifth week
7. Winter’s Tale, $7.3 million, three days; $8.1 million, four days
8. Frozen, $5.9 million, three days; $8.1 million, four days; $378.3 million, 13th week
9. Lone Survivor, $4.1 million, three days; $4.7 million, four days; $119 million, eighth week
10. That Awkward Moment, $3.5 million, three days; $3.9 million, four days; $21.9 million, third week

TIME Box Office Report

‘Frozen’ Beats ‘Fire’ With Ice at Box Office: $864 Million

Frozen

Two princesses outflank one Katniss

It’s not fair, two princesses ganging up on one commoner. But Anna and Elsa have caught Katniss.

Frozen, Disney’s animated feature based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” passed The Hunger Games: Catching Fire this weekend in cumulative worldwide box office, $864.4 million to $859.6 million. Neither film will come close to the $1.2 billion earned by Iron Man 3, the top-grossing picture released in 2013. But Frozen, which has yet to open in Japan or the much vaster market of China, could conceivably overtake the year’s worldwide runner-up, Despicable Me 2. At the moment the Disney cartoon is almost exactly $100 million behind the Universal cartoon. Gru, you’ve been served.

Since Pixar stole the animation thunder, beginning with the 1995 Toy Story, and broke Disney’s six-decade monopoly on the format, the parent studio has seemed an irrelevancy. For a decade or so it floundered between 2-D and 3-D. As late as 2009, with The Princess and the Frog, the studio was thought behind the times by focusing on female-centric stories. (Pixar, which earned the billions and the Oscars, preferred guy fables.) But Tangled, Disney’s take on Rapunzel, made money when released in 2010. And now Frozen, the first Disney animated feature with two princesses, has become the studio’s all-time animated moneymaker, passing The Lion King (in inflated dollars).

Since opening in late November, Frozen has remained in the top five each weekend, earning more than $360 million at the domestic box office and another $500 million abroad. And to put a ribbon on the money bag, the movie won five big prizes at last night’s Annie Awards, honoring film animation: feature, director, voice actor (Josh Gad as Olaf the Snowman), production design and, not least, music. Putting a sing-along version in 2,500 theaters this weekend was a smart idea for a property that is as much a musical as a movie phenomenon. Last week Frozen returned to the top of the Billboard charts, making it the first soundtrack to be the No. 1 album for three weeks or more since Zac Efron’s High School Musical 2. And in a year or two, the show will be headed to Broadway.

Even if Frozen doesn’t overtake Despicable Me 2, it and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire have proved the power of movies focused on strong young females. Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen will be saving Panem next November, and Anna and Elsa will surely be back, in sequels and theme-park attractions. All three women are elemental. But this time, Frozen is the victor. It’s beaten fire with ice.

TIME Box Office Report

Super Bowl Weak-end: ‘Ride Along’ Wins Again, by Default

Yes, people do go to the movies on the weekend of the Big Game. Just not this time.

As any sports stats cruncher can tell you, this evening’s Super Bowl XVIII is the 12th to be played in the first week of February but the first to take place on Feb. 2: Groundhog Day. And like Punxsutawney Phil, who this morning saw his shadow and crept back into his hole, most Americans stayed away from movie theaters this weekend. You may blame either Super Bowl fever — the devotee’s need to prepare for the sacred event by cooking a 48-meat stew, as Stephen Colbert said he would be dishing out — or the dearth of attractive new product at multiplexes. Bet on the dearth, and take the under.

In a defensive scrimmage short on excitement, the reigning champ Ride Along defeated Disney’s animated feature Frozen, now in its 11th week, to win the weekend at North American theaters. Scoring its third win in a row, the cop comedy with Ice Cube and star-of-the-moment Kevin Hart took in a modest $12.3 million, according to preliminary studio estimates. The princess musical added $9.3 million to its colossal $360 million haul, after adding a sing-along version in many theaters. Third place went to the new bromance That Awkward Moment, headlined by Zac Efron; it earned $9 million, a bit below limited expectations.

(READ: Joel Stein’s profile of Kevin Hart by subscribing to TIME)

The theme of armed men in trouble has birthed the new year’s two major hits: the Mark Wahlberg war movie Lone Survivor, which opened in two theaters Christmas week but has earned $100 million plus since going wide of Jan. 10; and Ride Along, which has topped $90 million since its Jan. 17th debut. Ride Along became the first live-action comedy to win three consecutive weekends since Tropic Thunder in Aug. 2008, and the first film costing less than $100 million to manage the hat trick since The Help in 2011.

(READ: Corliss’s review of Lone Survivor)

To three-peat, a movie usually needs to be either an unstoppable hit (Gravity, Inception, Alice in Wonderland) or the launch or extension of a major franchise (The Hobbit, The Avengers, The Hunger Games, The Twilight Saga). But some films take three in a row thanks to weak competition during a seasonal slump. The absence of a strong rival gave The Help its third-week victory on Labor Day 2011, and Ride Along a win here. Its $12 million gross this time is the lowest figure for any No. 1 movie since Skyfall won in early Dec. 2012, on its fifth weekend.

(READ: Corliss’s review of Ride Along)

What about the Super Bowl jinx? There’s no such thing. Yes, movie attendance takes a big dip on Sunday, when people watch the year’s highest-rated TV show, but theaters are open for business on Friday and Saturday. And studios have learned to counter-program, with movies aimed at teens and females. The fare may be horror films (which have accounted for seven of the past 11 Super Bowl weekend chart-toppers) or, occasionally, a pre-Valentine’s Day romance — like Dear John, which earned $30.5 million this weekend in 2010, and finally unseated the seven-week title holder Avatar.

(READ: When Dear John beat Avatar)

Four times in the past decade, the top two films on Super Bowl weekend have totaled more than $40 million. This time, Ride Along and That Awkward Moment barely scraped up $20 million. The one-two Super Bowl punch hasn’t been so feeble since 2002, when Black Hawk Down and Snow Dogs, both in their third week of wide release, combined for $21.3 million. Back then, ticket prices were much lower; in today’s dollars, that take would be a respectable $30.7 million.

Instead of horror or dewy love stories, audiences got That Awkward Moment — an R-rated comedy about three guys (Efron, Michael B. Jordan and Miles Teller) who swear off the burden of relationships for the sexual liberation of hookups. Efron, hatched to movie fame from Disney’s High School Musical series, had enjoyed a few $20 million successes between 2009 (17 Again) and 2012 (The Lucky One), before enduring the ex-teen star’s inevitable rehab phase.

(READ: Zac Efron opens up about life after rehab)

Jordan scored as the lead in Fruitvale Station, and Teller earned indie cred with The Spectacular Now. But the teaming of these three didn’t result in the dose of Viagra that their characters get in the movie; the CinemaScore was a less-than-arousing “B” from its audience of young (61 percent under the age of 25) females (64 percent). Made for just $8 million, the film will neither sink nor raise the profiles of its appealing star trio. In their careers, it’s likely to be That Forgettable Moment.

(SEE: Efron, Teller and Jordan at the People’s Choice Awards)

Disney’s magic moment with Frozen may extend into infinity. Since opening in late November, the two-princess movie has remained in the top five each weekend, earning more than $360 million at the domestic box office and another $500 million abroad. And to put a ribbon on the money bag, the movie won five big prizes at last night’s Annie Awards, honoring film animation: Feature, Director, Voice Actor (Josh Gad as Olaf the Snowman), Production Design and, not least, Music. Putting a sing-along version in 2,500 theaters this weekend was a smart idea for a property that is as much a musical as a movie phenomenon. Last week Frozen returned to the top of the Billboard charts, making it the first soundtrack to be the No. 1 album for three weeks or more since Efron’s High School Musical 2. And in a year or two, the show will be headed to Broadway.

(READ: The sing-along version of Grease)

In bleak midwinter, moviegoers might want to take respite from Frozen and enjoy a sweltering love story. What better counter-programming for the Super Bowl than a steamy romance, right? But Labor Day, in which depressed housewife and mom Kate Winslet falls for soulful killer Josh Brolin over a long summer weekend, had a hard time kidnapping customers. In nearly 2,600 theaters, the PG-13-rated valentine to bondage earned a tepid $5.2 million. Produced for a fairly thrifty $18 million, Jason Reitman’s adaptation of the Joyce Maynard novel received a “B” CinemaScore that does not augur strong word-of-mouth.

Brolin, a strong co-star in popular ensemble films like No Country for Old Men, Men in Black 3 and True Grit, hasn’t yet proved himself a leading man; his star turn in Spike Lee’s recent thriller Oldboy cadged a meager $2.2 million. And Winslet, the six-time Oscar nominee (and winner for The Reader), has not been the female lead in a film grossing as much as $60 million at the domestic box office since — yikes! — Titanic. Reitman, far from his comedy wheelhouse (Juno, Up in the Air), tried the dead-serious approach to desperate love, but found few takers for the spectacle of a lonely woman trussed up and spoon-fed chili by a sexy killer.

(READ: Corliss’s review of Labor Day)

Now, if the setting of Labor Day was different—say, early February—and Stephen Colbert had let her taste his 48-meat stew… nah, that probably wouldn’t have worked either.

Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:

1. Ride Along, $12.3 million; $93 million, third week
2. Frozen, $9.3 million; $360 million, 11th week
3. That Awkward Moment, $9 million, first weekend
4. The Nut Job, $7.6 million; $50.2 million, third week
5. Lone Survivor, $7.1 million; $104.8 million, sixth week
6. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, $5.4 million; $39 million, third week
7. Labor Day, $5.3 million, first weekend
8. American Hustle, $4.3 million; $132.1 million, eighth week
9. The Wolf of Wall Street, $3.55 million; $104 million, sixth week
10. I, Frankenstein, $3.52 million; $14.5 million, second week

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