COMPANY TOWN

'Fury' pushes 'Gone Girl' from top spot at box office

'Fury' opens with $23.5 million at box office

The new World War II film “Fury” starring Brad Pitt battled to the top of the weekend box office, pulling in an estimated $23.5 million in the U.S. and Canada and pushing “Gone Girl” out of the No. 1 spot.

Strong reviews and word of mouth propelled "Fury." As of Sunday, the film had notched an 80% positive rating on review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes. It received an A-minus grade from audience polling firm CinemaScore.

About 60% of the audience was male, and about 51% was older than 35.

"Fury," which was backed by Sony's Columbia Pictures with QED International and LStar Capital, cost about $68 million to make.

“We’re so proud of this film…. It’s a really good start for us,” said Rory Bruer, distribution president for Sony Pictures. “It’s a film that’s going to provoke discussion, and I think people who would maybe not be the first on the list to go see a movie about war will be really blown away by it.”

The David Ayer-directed film follows Sgt. Don Collier (Pitt), who leads a U.S. Army tank crew (played by Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña and Jon Bernthal) across Nazi-controlled Germany.

Sony moved up the release date for the film, which was originally scheduled for Nov. 14, the weekend after Paramount's "Interstellar" and Disney's animated "Big Hero 6" are set to open.

With its new release date, "Fury" topped George Clooney’s World War II film “The Monuments Men,” which opened to $22.7 million in February. But "Fury" lagged behind “Inglourious Basterds,” another Pitt-starring war film, which opened to about $38 million in 2009.

"It’s so important to have the emotion that goes with a war movie and the understanding that it’s not just about the action,” Bruer said. “There is a tremendous amount of action in 'Fury' -- it’s very visceral -- but on the other hand, it’s absolutely about camaraderie and family."

"Gone Girl" stayed strong in second place. The David Fincher thriller added $17.8 million to its gross, raising its total in the U.S. and Canada to about $107 million.

Based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, the Fox drama follows Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) after his wife (Rosamund Pike) goes missing.

So far, the film has wooed fans of Flynn, Fincher and Affleck as well as critics. It received a B grade from CinemaScore and an 88% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

“It’s really become the water cooler movie,” said Chris Aronson, 20th Century Fox’s head of domestic distribution.

Fox's new animated film, “The Book of Life,” opened to $17 million. The film, co-financed by Fox and Reel FX, cost about $50 million to make. The studio expected an opening weekend of $15 million to $20 million.

Written and directed by Jorge Gutierrez, the animated film follows Manolo through a quest through different worlds to rescue his true love and defend his village. The PG-rated film is produced by Guillermo del Toro and voiced by a cast that includes Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube and Christina Applegate.

“It was a labor of love for everyone that was involved,” Aronson said. “You could tell they really loved this project and it resonated across the board with audiences.”

The film drew a 57% female audience, and about 54% of moviegoers were younger than 25. "The Book of Life" resonated especially well with Latino filmgoers, who made up 30% of the audience.

It received an A-minus grade from CinemaScore and a 79% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes as of Sunday.

In limited release, Fox Searchlight’s “Birdman” soared, grossing $415,000 in just four theaters. That per-location average of $103,750 was the second highest of the year, behind “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and ahead of “Boyhood.”

The critically acclaimed film follows a washed up superhero actor (Michael Keaton) trying to get his mojo back with a Broadway play.

“We are truly amazed and gratified at the reception that ‘Birdman’ has received so far,” read a statement from Frank Rodriguez, Fox Searchlight’s head of distribution. “And even though we knew people loved the film from its successful festival screenings, we still did not expect the picture to have the second highest per-screen average.”

The film will expand to 18 new markets this Friday.

“Dear White People,” Justin Simien's satire about race relations, also did well in limited release. It grossed $344,136 from 11 theaters for a per-screen average of $31,285. As of Sunday, the film had notched a 97% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Another new release, the adaption of the Nicholas Sparks book “The Best of Me,” didn’t fare as well as previous Sparks movies. The film, starring James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan, opened to $10.2 million.

By comparison, “Dear John” starring Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried, opened in February 2010 to $32.4 million and displaced “Avatar” from the top of the charts. “Safe Haven,” which hit theaters on Valentine’s Day 2013, pocketed $34 million over a five-day holiday weekend.

Though moviegoers flock to see romantic films for Valentine’s Day, had "The Best of Me" been slated for February, the film would have had to face competition from “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

"The Best of Me" follows high-school sweethearts Dawson (Marsden) and Amanda (Monaghan), who reunite 20 years later for a friend's funeral. Before his death in November, Paul Walker had been cast in the role of Dawson.

The film, which cost about $26 million to make, is the third Sparks adaptation for Relativity Media, which partnered with Sparks and Di Novi Pictures for this release. Because of pre-sales and tax credits, Relativity said, its exposure for the film is just $5 million.

Though it notched a paltry 7% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the film did receive a B-plus grade from CinemaScore. It drew an audience that was about 70% female.

"We have had great success with Nicholas Sparks over the years and are always glad to be in business with him,” read a statement from Relativity. “We are confident the film will play well over the coming weeks given its word of mouth and strong CinemaScore."

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