LOS ANGELES • It was a surprise photo finish at the weekend box office, with the feel-good drama Hidden Figures and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story each selling an estimated US$22 million (S$31.8 million) in tickets at North American theatres.
Most analysts had expected Rogue One (Disney) to easily repeat as the No. 1 multiplex attraction. The Star Wars spin-off has collected about US$477.3 million over four weeks. Overseas, it has taken in another US$437 million, including 206.7 million yuan (S$43 million) in China, where it opened at the top of the box office.
But in its first weekend in wide release, Hidden Figures (20th Century Fox), about unsung black heroines in the Nasa space race of the 1960s, was lifted by strong reviews, an aggressive four-month marketing campaign that included a grassroots appeal to faith audiences and attention on Hollywood's annual awards circuit.
Produced by Chernin Entertainment and Levantine Films for about US$25 million, after accounting for tax credits, Hidden Figures received an A-plus grade from ticket buyers in CinemaScore exit polls.
Directed by Theodore Melfi and starring Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monae, the movie was most popular with women (64 per cent of the audience) and people older than 35 (about 56 per cent).
The animated musical Sing (Universal) was next in line, taking in about US$20 million, for a three- week domestic total of US$213.4 million.
The weekend's other new wide- release movie, Underworld: Blood Wars (Sony), managed only US$13 million in ticket sales, or nearly 50 per cent less than the initial results for its 2012 franchise predecessor.