In an unusually crowded Martin Luther King Jr. weekend box-office race, a strong group of holdovers managed to fend off an underperforming crop of new and expanding films featuring some of the industry's biggest names. The inspirational drama "Hidden Figures" took the top spot for the second week in a row.
The true-life story of a group of female African American scientists who played an integral role in the early days of the space program, 20th Century Fox's "Hidden Figures" pulled in $26 million for the holiday weekend. Since its opening, the film has taken in more than $60 million.
"This story has really captured the zeitgeist," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at the box office tracking firm comScore. "We're in these very trying and divisive times, and 'Hidden Figures' is the kind of movie that everybody can get behind and really endorse."
On the flip side, director Peter Berg's Boston Marathon bombing drama "Patriots Day," which resonates with some of the more turbulent strains of the current climate, fell below expectations in its first weekend in wide release.
Heading into the weekend, some had considered the film to be a contender for the No. 1 spot, with projections of an opening of $18 to $20 million. But despite positive reviews, a rare A+ CinemaScore from audiences and the drawing power of star Mark Wahlberg, the film took in just $13.6 million over the four-day weekend, finishing in seventh place.
Reinforcing the sense that audiences are looking to the movies as a place to escape from the news, a pair of buoyant musicals — the animated family film "Sing" and the romantic Oscar favorite "La La Land" — landed in the second and third spots.
"Sing" took in a little more than $19 million, while "La La Land," riding high on its seven wins at last weekend's Golden Globes, brought in $17.5 million, lifting its overall total to more than $77 million.
Of the weekend's newcomers, STX's horror film "The Bye Bye Man" proved the most potent entrant in the box-office derby, landing in fifth place behind "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" with $15.3 million.
But the other new and expanding films found it difficult to break through the pack, despite the fact that several boasted A-list talent both behind and in front of the camera.
Expanding to 2,822 theaters after several weeks of limited release, director and star Ben Affleck's period gangster drama "Live By Night" failed to connect with audiences, demonstrating once again the risks studios face in mounting ambitious, large-scale adult-oriented dramas. Hampered by largely negative reviews, the Warner Bros. film earned just $6.1 million.
Meanwhile, the Jamie Foxx-starring action thriller "Sleepless" was unable to break $10 million in its opening weekend, while director Martin Scorsese's religious-themed drama "Silence," expanding to 747 theaters, drew a mere $2.3 million despite largely favorable reviews.
Another newcomer that had been expected to land with a resounding thud, Paramount's kid-friendly live-action-animation hybrid "Monster Trucks," performed slightly better than anticipated. Projected to open at $8 to $10 million, the film about a teenager whose truck is inhabited by a tentacled monster managed to muster $15 million. Still, with a $125-million production budget, "Monster Trucks" can't be considered anything but a monster flop, and Paramount has already announced it will take a $115 million write-down on the film.
Dergarabedian says that some casualties were inevitable given how overstuffed the current movie marketplace is.
"In over 20 years of doing this, this may be the most crowded early part of any year that I've ever seen, between the holdovers, the Oscar contenders, the platform releases going wider and everything in between," he said. "There's definitely too many movies out there now, and there's a divide between the haves and the have-nots. Unless you're the squeakiest wheel, it's going to be hard to get noticed."
Still, despite this largely underwhelming weekend – which will, when the final numbers come in, be only the sixth or seventh biggest Martin Luther King Jr. weekend ever at the box office – Dergarabedian anticipates that things will pick up for the movie business moving into February and beyond.
"2017 has yet to develop its own identity," Dergarabedian said. "I'm expecting 2017 to be the biggest year ever at the movies. But you wouldn't know it by the current marketplace and the fragmentation of the audience."