If one thing seems sure today, it's that the folks at Viacom's (NASDAQ: VIA) Paramount Pictures are breathing a sigh of relief.
Amid a torrent of controversy stemming from its less-than-biblical portrayal, Viacom's Noah just enjoyed an estimated $44 million domestic weekend debut. That's well above the $30 million to $33 million range forecast by Paramount only a few days ago, and -- when combined with the $51.1 million Noah has already gathered internationally -- puts Noah well on its way to recouping Viacom's lofty $125 million production budget.
Meanwhile, Lions Gate's (LGF-A 5.02%) Divergent stood a distant second with $26.5 million, or a plunge of roughly 51.5% from its stellar launch last week.
The power of positive feedback
But before you go poo-pooing Lions Gate's latest franchise starter, I think Divergent has one key thing Noah lacks: staying power.
In addition, only 50% of Divergent's audience read its namesake book going into the film, compared to 74% and 76% for Twilight and The Hunger Games, respectively. And it's not for the books' lack of popularity; comparable pre-sales for the third novel in the Divergent trilogy, titled Allegiant, outsold The Hunger Games: Mockingjay by a five-to-one margin on Amazon in the month leading up to its Oct. 22 release. When Allegiant finally hit shelves, it promptly set a new first-day sales record for HarperCollins by moving 455,000 copies. In short, it looks like Divergent is piquing the curiosity of not only hardcore fans, but also the general movie-going public.
But why? Look no further than the movie appeal specialists at CinemaScore, who say polled audiences ranked Divergent a solid "A" overall. Viewers under the age of 18 even gave Divergent a rare "A+" score. This indicates Lions Gate's film should continue to benefit from positive word of mouth in the crucial months to come.
Why Noah could be in for a rough ride
Meanwhile, despite Viacom's decision to preface its film with a "this isn't biblically accurate" disclaimer, Noah was deemed a mediocre "C" by disappointed viewers. This means Viacom likely won't benefit from repeat viewings or positive feedback to drive ticket sales, so it can only hope the early novelty -- and yes, perhaps even bad publicity -- surrounding Noah will be adequate to run up the score from both U.S. and foreign audiences in the coming weeks.
What's more, keep in mind Disney (DIS 1.09%) Marvel is launching Captain America: The Winter Soldier in U.S. theaters this Friday. Winter Soldier has already grossed $75.2 million after rolling out in 32 international territories Friday, and that doesn't include some of Noah's biggest markets so far in Mexico, South Korea, Australia, and Russia. If Disney's latest comic book-based film effectively steals the spotlight next weekend, Noah could sink hard and fast without anything else to prop it up.