exodus gods and kings

“Exodus: Gods and Kings” toppled “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” from its perch atop the box office, but its opening weekend results fell short of heavenly status.

The biblical epic picked up $24.5 million from 3,503 locations. That was in line with projections, but bringing the story of Moses to life carried a hefty $140 million pricetag. The 20th Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment production will need to perform well overseas and will have to build an audience Stateside if it’s going to be profitable.

The debut audience was 54% male and 65% over the age of 25, and the film played particularly well to Hispanic and African-American moviegoers, who made up 18% and 20% of the crowd, respectively.

“We got the religious audience, but the opening audience was much more diverse than just that,” said Spencer Klein, executive vice president of theatrical distribution at Fox.

Its opening also fell short of the launches of other religious-themed films such as “Noah” ($43.7 million), “Son of God” ($25.6 million) and “The Passion of the Christ”($83.8 million). Working in “Exodus'” favor is that films that open in December have a longer runway. The Christmas holidays means many moviegoers are on vacation, allowing films that debut softly to stick around longer than they might at other times of the year.

“This is a great start for us leading into the holiday stretch,” said Klein, adding, “In this play period you get such a big multiple [on a film’s opening weekend].”

Parting the Red Sea and unleashing plagues of frogs played well in premium formats. “Exodus” generated 11% of its opening from premium large screen formats and 44% of its receipts from 3D showings.

The weekend’s other major new entry, “Top Five,” picked up $7.2 million across 979 locations, good enough for a fourth place finish. Chris Rock wrote, directed and stars in the film about a comedian at a professional and personal crossroads, earning some of the strongest notices of his career.

“We got the launch we wanted and the reaction we had hoped for,” said Rob Moore, vice chairman of Paramount Pictures. “We do feel that word of mouth is going to continue to build as we keep expanding.”

Paramount Pictures picked up worldwide rights to the film from the Toronto Film Festival for $12.5 million and, as part of the pact, the studio agreed to pay at least $20 million in promotion and marketing. It will be on roughly 2,000 screens by the end of 2014 and will begin its overseas launch next year.

Rock, who gave buzzy interviews to the likes of New York magazine and hosted “Saturday Night Live,” has been indefatigable in his support for the picture.

“He worked his butt off and put so much of himself into the movie and into his support of it,” said Moore.

The overall box office was down more than 40% from the year-ago period when “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” debuted to $73.6 million. Year to date, domestic ticket sales are trailing 2013 by 5.1%, according to Rentrak. Last year, the Stateside box office ended with a record-setting $10.9 billion, a figure it will likely fall short of this time.

“There’s no record in store for 2014,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with Rentrak. “The deficit keeps adding up, and we’re running out of race track.”

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” may have ceded its throne, but it still pulled in a crowd, picking up second place on the charts with $13.2 million. The blockbuster sequel has earned $277.4 million after a month in theaters.

Coming in at third and fifth position were “Penguins of Madagascar” and “Big Hero 6,” which pulled in $7.3 million and $6.1 million, respectively. “Penguins of Madagascar” has generated $58.8 million in receipts and “Big Hero 6” has racked up $185.3 million.

In the arthouse scene, Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” did respectable business in five New York and Los Angeles locations. The adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s mystery novel earned $330,000 in its opening weekend for a per-screen average of $65,952. The film expands broadly on Jan. 9, but may have trouble finding an audience unless it starts to generate more awards attention.

Among Oscar hopefuls, “The Theory of Everything” picked up $2.5 million and “The Imitation Game” nabbed $875,136, pushing their totals to $17 million and $2 million, respectively.

Fox Searchlight’s “Wild” earned $1.6 million after expanding from 21 to 116 theaters. It has made $2.4 million in two weeks of release. The indie label’s “Birdman” flew past $20 million this weekend after picking up $1.3 million.

Next week brings a triumvirate of major releases — “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” “Annie” and “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” — and with them, one of the last chances of recapturing box office momentum so 2014 doesn’t end with a whimper.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the expansion date for “Inherent Vice.”

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