Riding atop the weekend's box office is the new Emily Blunt thriller, "The Girl on the Train," outpacing fellow new releases "The Birth of a Nation" and "Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life."
"Girl," from Universal Pictures, pulled in an estimated $24.7 million in the U.S. and Canada, just shy of analysts' expectations of $25 million to $30 million. The studio projected a more modest $20-million minimum.
"Our film has enjoyed strong success so far," said Nick Carpou, the studio's head of distribution. "It will continue to play well as an alternative to other films out there."
Adapted from the best-selling Paula Hawkins novel, the film was directed by Tate Taylor and cost about $45 million to make. Blunt plays a recently divorced woman who becomes wrapped up in a missing persons investigation. The film is the first Universal Pictures release produced by Steven Spielberg's new company, Amblin Partners, after his DreamWorks shingle left Disney this year.
Neither audiences nor critics are entirely sold on the film. Moviegoers (68% female, 55% 35 and older, 67% white) gave it a B-minus CinemaScore, and only 44% of Rotten Tomatoes reviews rate it positively.
The popularity of the film's source material, however, is likely to bode well for its future in the same vein as David Fincher's 2014 "Gone Girl," which was similarly marketed as a twisted R-rated thriller based on a bestseller and went on to gross $168 million domestically.
In second place was last week's box office victor, "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children," from Fox. The picture brought in another $15 million for a domestic gross to date of $51.1 million.
Lionsgate's "Deepwater Horizon" took third place in its second week with $11.8 million. The flick starring Mark Wahlberg has brought in $38.5 million to date.
"The Magnificent Seven" fell to fourth in its third week with $9.2 million. Sony's remake by director Antoine Fuqua and starring Denzel Washington has now garnered $75.9 million in ticket sales domestically.
Rounding out the top five was Warner Bros.' animated film "Storks" with $8.5 million. Three weeks after its debut, it's brought in $50.1 million.
As for the other two new releases, "Birth of a Nation" landed in sixth with $7.1 million, and "Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life" took the seventh spot with $6.9 million.
"Birth" barely met analyst projections of $7 million to $9 million as well as the studio's more limited expectations of $7 million to $8 million. But the studio does not count that as a disappointment, following controversy around the film's star, director, producer and co-writer, Nate Parker.
Parker has been in the headlines because of a case in which he, along with the film's co-writer, was accused of sexually assaulting a female student while at Penn State University in 1999. Parker was acquitted in 2001 and has maintained the sex was consensual. In a "60 Minutes" interview that aired Oct. 2, he told Anderson Cooper, "I don't feel guilty." The co-writer, Parker's college roommate Jean McGianni Celestin, successfully appealed his conviction. Their accuser committed suicide in 2012.
The film received an A CinemaScore from audiences, 60% of whom were older than 25. African Americans made up 50% of the audience, and whites accounted for 40%, according to the studio.
Frank Rodriguez, Fox Searchlight's distribution chief, said the CinemaScore is "encouraging" regarding the picture's future play.
"What we can hope for and what we expect is there to be some good word of mouth on the film," he said.
The film performed best in theaters in New York City, Atlanta, Baltimore and Washington.
Many film critics have, in ways subtle and nuanced, retracted the unbridled praise lodged pre-controversy when the film premiered at Sundance to standing ovations. Still, 79% of reviews on Rotten Tomatoes rated the picture positively.
"Middle School," a PG-rated comedy is about a boy who foments a school-wide rebellion against a strict principal's regime. Produced in partnership with CBS Films and adapted from a novel by James Patterson, it too came in below analyst projections of about $8 million.
Audiences and critics have split on the flick. Moviegoers gave it an A-minus CinemaScore, but only 59% of Rotten Tomatoes critics rated the picture positively.
Though all films opening this weekend came in below projections, it must be noted that inclement weather along the Southeast affected their performances. Many theaters along the coasts of states including South Carolina, Georgia and Florida closed as a result of Hurricane Matthew.
Next weekend, Warner Bros.' "The Accountant," Universal's "Kevin Hart: What Now" and Open Road's "Max Steel" will premiere.