By Brent Lang
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - "The Girl on the Train" pulled into the station with a $24.7 million opening, a solid result despite the fact that the mystery debuted as much of the U.S. Southeast was being pummeled by Hurricane Matthew. (But $2 to $4 million less than what analysts had hoped).
Its success is a shot in the arm to DreamWorks, which optioned the Paula Hawkins' best-seller about an alcoholic woman (Emily Blunt), who must piece together a mysterious disappearance. The company has suffered a string of duds in recent years, most recently shouldering the twin duds of "The BFG" and "The Light Between Oceans." However, "The Girl on the Train" kicks off a new five-year distribution deal with Universal Pictures -- one that will see the company rebranded as Amblin Partners, complete with backing from Reliance, Entertainment One, and Participant. "Girl on the Train" cost $45 million to make.
Nate Parker's "The Birth of a Nation" was not as fortunate, premiering to a disappointing $7.1 million across 2,105 theaters. The biopic about slave rebellion leader Nat Turner was a sensation at the Sundance Film Festival, where it premiered to a rapturous standing ovation and sold to Fox Searchlight for a record-shattering $17.5 million.
But the release was derailed after rape allegations against Parker and his "The Birth of a Nation" co-writer Jean Celestin resurfaced. Both men were accused of assaulting a college classmate over a decade ago. Though they were ultimately acquitted of those charges, news broke this summer that their accuser had committed suicide in 2012. The ensuing controversy overshadowed the strong reviews and may have hurt the film's Oscar chances.
The weekend's other wide release, "Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life," attempted to court younger crowds, opening to $6.9 million from 2,822 theaters. The film follows a teenager who cooks up a series of pranks to embarrass his autocratic principal. It is based on a popular series of books by James Patterson. CBS Films produced the movie for $11 million, with Lionsgate distributing the picture.Last weekend's champ, "Miss Peregrine's School for Peculiar Children," fell roughly 50% to $15 million for a second place finish. That puts the Tim Burton fantasy's total at $51.1 million. Fox backed the film, which carries a sizable $110 million price tag.
Lionsgate's "Deepwater Horizon" continued to struggle, taking in $11.7 million, and bringing its domestic total to $38.5 million. The action-drama about the men and women caught up in one of the worst oil spills in history earned solid reviews, but cost a massive $120 million after tax credits were taken into account.
Sony's "The Magnificent Seven" took fourth place with $9.1 million, pushing the Western remake's haul to $75.9 million. "Storks," the Warner Bros. animated comedy, rounded out the top five with $8.4 million, bringing its stateside receipts to $50.1 million.