Buckle your seatbelts, Divergent fans, because this weekend Lions Gate (NYSE:LGF-A) is bringing your favorite dystopian future to life.
In fact, some of you have already seen it, thanks to select Thursday night showings that already brought an impressive $4.9 million. For reference, last summer Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) Universal's Despicable Me 2 brought $4.7 million in the Thursday before its dominant $83.5 million opening.
But don't get too excited just yet. While this is definitely good news for Lions Gate's latest franchise hopeful -- there are two more wildly popular books, titled Insurgent and Allegiant -- remember Despicable Me 2 benefited from strong late-weekend sales as families flocked to see the PG-rated film. Divergent only stepped it up one notch to PG-13, but it appeals primarily to a narrower young-adult target audience.
As a result, Divergent will likely end up closer to the first Twilight's $69.6 million opening in 2008. That's nowhere near Lions Gate's record-setting $152.5 million launch of The Hunger Games in 2012, but even a hair above $70 million would still be enough to break into March's top five biggest weekend debuts. What's more, that would be a great start given Divergent's modest $87 million production budget.
Finally, remember when Lions Gate acquired Summit Entertainment in early 2012, they had the success of Twilight in mind. To be sure, the first Twilight cost just $37 million to produce and ultimately grossed $392.6 million worldwide. By the time Breaking Dawn Part 2 finally exited theaters in early 2013, the five Twilight films had collectively grossed more than $3.34 billion.
If the Divergent franchise can do even half as well, I'd consider it a huge success for Lions Gate.
Divergent isn't alone this weekend
Speaking of modest budgets, let's not forget Disney (NYSE:DIS) is also bringing Muppets Most Wanted to the big screen this weekend. The sequel's primary hurdle, however, will be convincing families to forego repeat viewings of DreamWorks Animation's (NASDAQ:DWA) third-weekend holdover and reigning champion, Mr. Peabody & Sherman.
But that shouldn't be much of an issue since early tracking data pegs Muppets Most Wanted in the $25 million range -- still short of the original Muppets' $29 million debut, but not too shabby for a $50 million film. As long as Mr. Peabody & Sherman continues its normal downward trend from last weekend's solid $21.8 million take, it should add another $14 million to $18 million to its total over the next three days.
Mr. Peabody & Sherman has grossed $154 million worldwide so far, which means it has plenty of work ahead in order to recoup DreamWorks' steep $145 million outlay. As I suggested two weeks ago, however, DreamWorks has already proven it's great at turning seeming box office disasters into successes over the long term, so don't think investors need to worry just yet.