'The Girl on the Train,' 'The Birth of a Nation' go up against 'Peregrine,' 'Deepwater'

Box Office Outlook

A trio of new wide releases will have to contend this weekend with more than the normal crop of holdover competition. Theatres throughout the southeastern United States are closing due to Hurricane Matthew, which is expected to make landfall in Florida later today. A state of emergency has already been declared in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. Needless to say, people in the affected areas won’t exactly have moviegoing on their minds, which is expected to contribute to a drop this weekend compared to the same timespan last year.

Even without extenuating circumstances provided by Mother Nature, though, none of this weekend’s new wide releases would have been expected to break any records. The highest earner will be The Girl on the Train, which will push last week’s victor Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children out of the top spot. With its unreliable narrator, shifts in perspective and third-act twist, The Girl on the Train—and the book on which it’s based—invites comparisons to Gone Girl, which opened to $37.5 million two years ago. But Gone Girl had positive word of mouth on its side, while critical reception for The Girl on the Train could most charitably be be described as mixed. (46% approval on Rotten Tomatoes.) It’s likely to earn in the range of $25-$30 million against a  $45 million budget--respectable, if not particularly memorable.

The big question mark this weekend belongs to The Birth of a Nation, which sold for a record $17.5 million at this year’s Sundance and was the subject of deafening buzz… and then the rape allegations against director/writer/producer/star Nate Parker resurfaced, leading to ample negative press for the film and, from some corners, plans to boycott. An added wrinkle is that the film's reviews, while decidedly on the positive side, aren’t great. A 77% approval rate on Rotten Tomatoes is by no means indicative of a critical flop, but the emerging narrative seems to be “it’s good, but it could have been better.” That might not be enough to convince people on the fence about Parker to pony up for a ticket. It’s expected to earn in the high single digits, below holdovers Peregrine, Deepwater Horizon and The Magnificent Seven.

The remaining wide release slot goes to Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, a kiddie comedy with middling reviews and not much by way of name recognition. It should open under Birth of a Nation and out of the top five.

Out in limited release are Terrence Malick’s 44-minute-long Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience (there’s also a full-length, non-IMAX version, not opening this weekend), the Bollywood epic Mirzya, and Rialto’s re-release of The Battle of Algiers, among others.