'Split' shocks the box office — and Vin Diesel's 'xXx' sequel — with a $40-million debut

Competing with a presidential inauguration, multi-city marches and big-budget Hollywood productions, M. Night Shyamalan’s creepy psychological thriller “Split” pulled off a surprising victory its opening weekend, pulling $14.6 million Friday for an estimated weekend gross of $40.2 million.

The low-budget “Split,” which cost a reported $9 million to make, blew away predictions that it would be bested by Vin Diesel’s big, action-packed “xXx: Return of Xander Cage.”

“Xander Cage” cost upward of $85 million to make, but it made just $20 million over the weekend. It wasn’t a happy return given that the last installment of the trilogy was 12 years ago (and starred Ice Cube, not Diesel).

“Split,” which was self-financed by Shyamalan, stars James McAvoy as a multifaceted psych patient with 23 personalities. His psychiatrist, played by Betty Buckley, is monitoring them all, but there’s one personality that’s waiting in the shadows to emerge – and suffice to say that all hell breaks loose when it does. He abducts three teenagers, which compels all his other personas to battle it out for the girls’ survival – and his.

The Universal/Blumhouse production was popular among critics, scoring a 76% “Fresh” rating on the on Rotten Tomatoes.

Though “Xander Cage,” which stars Diesel as a brain-meets-brawn spy, generated less than half of what “Split” did on its Friday opening, it beat the dark thriller in terms of audience sentiment. It scored an A- on CinemaScore, which reflects opening night moviegoer reaction. “Split” registered a B-.

The lackluster performance of Paramount/Revolution’s “Xander Cage” represents a markedly lower opening than the original in the “xXx" trilogy.

The trilogy debut, which starred Diesel as an extreme sports enthusiast turned reluctant spy for the National Security Agency, took in $44.5 million during its opening weekend in 2002. (The second film, 2005’s “XXX: State of the Union,” opened to $12.7 million.)

Diesel’s return to the franchise prompted expectations of a better box office performance.

Awards season heavy hitters "Hidden Figures" and “La La Land” landed in third and fifth place, respectively: “Hidden Figures” nabbed $16.2 million while “La La Land” made $8.3 million.

The weekend’s other new entry, the Weinstein Co.’s “The Founder,” starring Michael Keaton as McDonald’s creator Roy Kroc, snuck in toward the bottom of the weekend’s Top 10, grossing a mere $3.7 million.

lorraine.ali@latimes.com

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