As audiences awaited the premiere of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" later this week, the new release "In the Heart of the Sea" couldn't find much of an audience or poach the top box-office spot from "The Hunger Games" finale, which finished at No. 1 for the fourth-straight weekend.
"In the Heart of the Sea," Warner Bros.' 19th century whaling film starring Chris Hemsworth and directed by Ron Howard, generated an estimated $11 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada. That fell below modest projections of $12 million for its opening weekend.
"It's really a marathon and not a sprint with a film like this," said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros. executive vice president of distribution. "When you have an older-skewing audience, like this film, they don't come out during opening week. You need some time for the audience to hear about it."
The film is based on the true story that inspired the celebrated Herman Melville novel "Moby-Dick." Audiences gave it a B-plus grade, according to polling firm CinemaScore. But critics weren't as kind, with only 43% of those on Rotten Tomatoes giving the film a positive rating.
Goldstein said he was optimistic that the film will perform well in the long term once word of mouth spreads among its audience, which was mostly male (54%) and older than 35 (68%).
Considering it cost nearly $100 million to produce, "In the Heart of the Sea" marks another potential disappointment for the studio following "Pan" and "Our Brand Is Crisis," although its "Rocky" spinoff "Creed" continues to do well and its 2016 lineup includes heavyweights "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice", "Suicide Squad," Clint Eastwood's "Sully" and "Central Intelligence" with Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart.
In the present, however, it was "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2" that proved to be a box-office heavyweight for Lionsgate. Since its Nov. 20 debut, the latest film based on Suzanne Collins' novels has grossed almost $245 million domestically. It added $11.3 million this weekend.
Worldwide, the movie starring Jennifer Lawrence has sold more than $564 million in tickets.
Walt Disney Co.'s "The Good Dinosaur" won third place by adding $10.5 million. The latest animated offering from Pixar is now knocking on the door of $90 million domestically. Globally, the film neared the $170-million mark as it plays strongest in Latin America, with good showings also in France, Germany and Southeast Asia.
The New Line Cinema and MGM-financed "Creed" took the fourth spot in its third week, pulling in an estimated $10.1 million. The film, starring Michael B. Jordan as the son of Apollo Creed, has made nearly $80 million domestically.
Sylvester Stallone, who reprises his role as Rocky Balboa, landed a Golden Globe nomination last week for his performance. It's his first Globes nomination in almost 40 years.
Rounding out the top five is the Universal Pictures and Legendary Pictures' "Krampus" with $8 million. Based on an ancient Alpine Christmas legend, the film, starring Adam Scott and Toni Colette, follows a modern dysfunctional family whose holiday celebration is overturned by the demonic, goat-like counterpart to St. Nicholas.
In limited release, Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises opened "The Big Short," the comedy-drama about a group of Wall Street types (Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell and Christian Bale) who bet against the big banks and the housing market. The Adam McKay-directed picture pulled in an estimated $720,000 at eight locations. That's a strong per-screen average of $90,000.
The film earned strong word of mouth — an 86% positive critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an A grade from CinemaScore audiences — plus four Golden Globe nominations, including for best picture comedy. It also received a Screen Actors Guild nomination for the ensemble and a win from the National Board of Review for ensemble. These recognitions should help the film when it opens nationwide Dec. 23.
Open Road's "Spotlight" and Fox Searchlight's "Brooklyn," both with SAG and Golden Globes nominations, continue to perform well. "Spotlight" finished in ninth place ($2.5 million), and "Brooklyn" finished in 10th ($2 million).
With the winds of award season blowing at its back, the Weinstein Co.'s "Carol" also built its audience. After adding 12 locations for a total of 16 in its fourth weekend, the film earned about $337,000 this weekend for a cumulative gross of $1.2 million.
Next weekend is all "Star Wars." The latest addition in the franchise, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," opens Thursday night.