Box Office: ‘Exodus’ to Hold Off ‘Top Five,’ ‘Hunger Games’

It’s Moses versus Chris Rock at the weekend box office as Hollywood ramps up for what it hopes will be a very merry Christmas at the multiplexes.

Ticket sales plunged last week as moviegoers generally steer clear of the cinemas after Thanksgiving, but help arrives this week in the form of biblical epic “Exodus: Gods and Kings” and the R-rated comedy “Top Five.”

Both will boost receipts, but it will be hard for the weekend to match the year-ago period when “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” kicked off with $73.6 million. Give the edge to “Exodus,” which should pull in roughly $25 million when it debuts across 3,503 locations. Some tracking suggests the film could hit $30 million, but a lot depends on whether faith-based crowds embrace the picture.

Parting the Red Sea isn’t cheap, and at a production cost of $140 million, “Exodus” will need to do brisk business overseas to make a profit. The film already has a head start abroad, having debuted last weekend in 10 foreign markets including South Korea and Mexico, picking up $23.1 million. The Ridley Scott production stars Christian Bale as Moses and Joel Edgerton as Ramses. Early reviews have been mixed, and the picture currently holds a 45% “rotten” ranking on Rotten Tomatoes, although most major critics have yet to weigh in.

If critics alone determined box office results than “Top Five” would be a blockbuster. The portrait of a comedian at a professional and personal crossroads has been hailed as a return to form for Chris Rock, who has been indefatigable in promoting the picture. He wrote, directed and stars in “Top Five” and has had buzzy interviews in publications such as New York that will help raise the film’s profile.

Paramount Pictures bought rights to the film out of the Toronto Film Festival for a whopping $12.5 million. The film’s budget was $10 million, and as part of the pact, Paramount agreed to pay at least $20 million in promotion and marketing. The studio is taking a patient approach with the film’s rollout, releasing the picture in approximately 975 locations, where it should open to $8 million.

December is an odd month for films, because the extended holiday period puts less pressure on an opening weekend. In any other month, a picture’s first three days in theaters makes or breaks its box office performance, but with people on vacation, every day suddenly becomes Saturday at the cinema, allowing films to settle in for the long haul.

“You can’t judge a movie like ‘Exodus’ or ‘Top Five’ based on their opening weekends,” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst for BoxOffice.com. “There’s a lot of time between Christmas and New Year’s for a film to pop, and compared to last year, there aren’t as many adult-skewing titles.”

“Exodus” should supplant “Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” as the weekend’s top film. The latest installment in the dystopian series has been the number one film for three weeks straight, but it should fall to number two with about $12 million.

There are also a number of limited releases hitting arthouses, most notably “Inherent Vice.” Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s gonzo mystery caper will debut in five locations in New York and Los Angeles. It goes wide on January 9 but could face some fierce headwinds unless it starts generating awards attention.

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