‘Girl on the Train’ steam­rolls Parker’s ‘Birth of a Na­tion’

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - BUSINESS - By Jake Coyle AP Film Writer

NEW YORK >> Pro­pelled by the pop­u­lar­ity of Paula Hawkins’ best-seller, the fast-tracked big-screen adap­ta­tion of “The Girl on the Train” led North Amer­i­can the­aters in ticket sales with $24.7 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to stu­dio es­ti­mates Sun­day. Less suc­cess­ful was Nate Parker’s Nat Turner biopic “The Birth of a Na­tion,” which movie­go­ers largely greeted with a shrug af­ter a 17-year-old rape al­le­ga­tion resur­faced against its star and di­rec­tor.

“The Girl on the Train,” a psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller star­ring Emily Blunt, ap­pealed sig­nif­i­cantly to fe­male movie­go­ers, who made up 68 per­cent of the au­di­ence, ac­cord­ing to the film’s dis­tributer, Universal Pictures. The film, di­rected by Tate Tay­lor (“The Help”), is about an al­co­holic sub­ur­ban­ite woman who be­comes em­broiled in a mys­te­ri­ous dis­ap­pear­ance.

Re­leased just last year, Hawkins’ novel went from best-seller lists to the top of the box of­fice in short or­der. DreamWorks ac­quired film rights to the book ahead of its pub­li­ca­tion. While re­views for the film were weak, Blunt’s lead per­for­mance was largely praised.

Nick Car­pou, pres­i­dent of do­mes­tic distribution for Universal, cred­ited the film’s suc­cess with the al­liance of Universal and Steven Spiel­berg’s Am­blin Part­ners. Car­pou said the film’s box of­fice was largely un­af­fected by Hurricane Matthew.

But per­haps the most closely watched open­ing was Fox Search­light’s “The Birth of a Na­tion.” Play­ing in 2,105 the­aters, the film opened with a dis­ap­point­ing $7.1 mil­lion.

The movie fetched a record $17.5 mil­lion at its much-lauded Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val pre­miere, where it was hailed as an Os­car con­tender and an an­swer to the then-boil­ing “Os­carsSoWhite” back­lash. But Parker be­came en­veloped in a rape al­le­ga­tion from his past, when he was a sopho­more at Penn State. Parker, who has main­tained his in­no­cence, was ac­quit­ted in 2001. The al­leged vic­tim killed her­self in 2012.

As the con­tro­versy con­tin­ued through the sum­mer and fall (Parker ap­peared on “60 Min­utes” last week­end), Fox Search­light worked in vain to di­rect fo­cus back to­ward Parker’s movie. On open­ing night Thurs­day, pro­test­ers held a silent vigil for vic­tims of rape and sex­ual as­sault out­side a Los An­ge­les theater.

Paul Der­garabe­dian, se­nior me­dia an­a­lyst for comS­core, was hes­i­tant to say how large a role the con­tro­versy played in the film’s per­for­mance.

“It’s hard to know, but con­sid­er­ing the ini­tial prom­ise of the movie and all the pos­i­tive talk about the film and its Os­car prospects, you would have fig­ured that it would do more busi­ness,” Der­garabe­dian said. “Now it’s in the mar­ket­place where the au­di­ence can de­cide how they feel about the movie.”

Also open­ing in wide re­lease was the CBS Films and Lion­s­gate re­lease “Mid­dle School: The Worst Years of My Life,” based on the James Pat­ter­son books about a teenager who ter­ror­izes his prin­ci­pal with pranks. It de­buted with $6.9 mil­lion.

Last week’s top film, Tim Bur­ton’s “Miss Pere­grine’s School for Pe­cu­liar Chil­dren,” slid to se­cond place with $15 mil­lion in its se­cond week for 20th Cen­tury Fox. The Lion­s­gate re­al­life dis­as­ter film “Deep­wa­ter Horizon” took in $11.8 mil­lion in its se­cond week.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Nate Parker per­forms as Nat Turner, cen­ter, in a scene from “The Birth of a Na­tion.” Nate Parker’s Nat Turner biopic “The Birth of a Na­tion,” opened with a dis­ap­point­ing $7.1 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to stu­dio es­ti­mates Sun­day.

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