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Weekend Box Office: ‘Heaven Is for Real’ Rises Above Other New Releases; ‘Winter Solider’ Stays on Top

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Easter weekend brought out a trio of new mainstream releases but none could top Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which will become the third film of 2014 to three-peat at the top spot. Rio 2 also held on to the second spot. However, that doesn't mean the others films aren't newsworthy ... just some for better reasons than others.

(Credit: Tri-Star)

Tri-Star (a subsidiary of Sony (NYSE: SNE  ) )

The line

Heaven Is for Real

Finish: 3rd place / Est. budget: $12 million / 3-day estimated total: $21.5 million/ 5-day estimated total: $28.5 million

The analysis

This has been a big year for religious films with Son of God, God's Not Dead, and Noah all pulling box office surprises. As a result the expectations for this film (based on a true story) were already high, and they went even higher when the film scored nearly $4 million on its opening day. TriStar played it smart and opened Heaven two days earlier to combat the heavy competition it was likely to face.

The move worked. Religious audiences and mainstream audiences converged and the film looks to end the weekend with a five-day total of slightly over $28 million; about $5 million more than first estimated earlier in the week. Studios are beginning to take note that spiritual movies are the new "it" genre and more of those types of pics are already slated for the rest of this year.

The future

Tri-Star is under the Sony umbrella and for executives Heaven was its last film before the busy summer season. Made for $12 million, this was a low-risk, high-reward picture, and now that the film will more than double its production budget there should be a lot of happy people at the studio. Executives also are smiling because its friendly neighborhood webslinger Spider-Man is just two weeks away from making his theatrical return. Sony has six films on tap for this summer, three of them sequels. Keep an eye out for late summer entry When the Game Stands Tall -- it may not be a spiritual film, but the inspirational football drama will likely play well with the same type of audience.

Warner Brothers (a subsidiary of Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) )

The line


Finish: 4th place / Est. budget: $100 million / 3-day estimated total: $11 million

The analysis

This was a disappointment. Directed by Oscar winner Wally Pfister (the longtime cinematographer for Christopher Nolan), the Johnny Depp fronted drama was at one time expected to clear $30 million opening weekend. That soon became adjusted to $25 million, then down to $20 million before falling all the way down to $11 million.

Audiences didn't know what to think about Pfister's directorial debut, but the critics did and in the end their (less than kind) opinion won. As I argued yesterday though, this was still a smart and calculated risk for Warner Brothers to take and I would warn people not to judge a man's career on one movie alone. Go back and watch Inception and The Dark Knight trilogy if you need to be reminded how talented a filmmaker Pfister is. He just will need to tackle a different type of genre in his sophomore selection.

The future

Executives have probably known for a little bit they were going to take a hit with the film, but given the eight films on the studio's summer slate, they'll be able to bounce back fast. First up is its remake of Godzilla, which has been building a monster buzz. Fronted by Bryan Cranston (who can do no wrong post Breaking Bad), the film hits May 16 and could be a big box office surprise. Throw in movie musical Jersey Boys, Melissa McCarthy comedy Tammy, and the Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore reteam Blended, this could be a big summer for Warner Brothers.

Open Road (a joint venture of  AMC  (NYSE: AMC  ) and Regal Cinemas  (NYSE: RGC  ) )

The line

A Haunted House 2

Finish: 5th place / Est. budget: $3 million / 3-day estimated total: $8.8 million

The analysis

When it costs around $3 million to make a movie, the bar for success isn't set that high. Open Road released A Haunted House in January last year and saw it earn $18 million in three days ... a sequel was a no-brainer. Yet with an April release date and more competition, everybody knew the follow-up wasn't going to do the same big business. Again if it cost about $3 million to produce and it made close to $9 million then that's called a good weekend.

The future

As of now Open Road has three movies left on its 2014 roster but two of those are limited release. The only larger scale film is The Fluffy Movie starring popular standup Gabriel Iglesias. In the same vein as last year's hit Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain, this is a concert film shot during two of the comedian's standup performances earlier this year. Iglesias is not only a talented comedian but he's also in the Open Road family as he lent his voice earlier to this year to the studio's The Nut Job, which now stands as the company's most profitable movie ever.

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