NEW YORK >> M. Night Shyamalan’s psychological thriller “Split” blew away box-office expectations, earning $40.2 million in ticket sales over inauguration weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday.
Though many were focused on Friday’s presidential inauguration and Saturday’s nationwide women’s marches, “Split” doubled forecasts to easily lead all films. The Universal Pictures release again brings together Shyamalan, director of “The Sixth Sense,” with the low-budget horror experts of Blumhouse Productions.
The PG-13-rated “Split,” starring James McAvoy as a man with split personalities, cost less than $10 million to make.
“This is an unusual weekend in our society and a lot of things have been going on that would otherwise divert our attention,” said Nick Carpou, head of distribution for Universal. “A film like this based on the elements that it brings and the audience that it attracts, I think can take some advantage of that either as a relief to current events or perhaps as an adjunct to them.”
It’s the second collaboration between producer Jason Blum and Shyamalan, whose fluctuating career has recently found a lucrative home at Blumhouse. They previously combined for 2015’s breakout horror hit “The Visit.”
The Vin Diesel action sequel “xXx: The Return of Xander Cage” opened in second place, with $20 million. It’s the third film in the trilogy and first installment in 12 years. Though a modest start for a film designed to recharge a dormant franchise, it is faring better overseas. It took in $50.5 million internationally over the weekend.
Last weekend’s top film, the stirring mathematician drama “Hidden Figures,” held on well, sliding to third place with an estimated $16.3 million.
Despite the weekend’s political events, the North American box office was up 29.2 percent from the same weekend last year, according to comScore.
“You would think that those events would suck the air out of the room, but that didn’t happen,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore. “The movie theater experience with the right content is irresistible no matter what is going on in the outside world, and in fact may even benefit from so much going on in the outside world. To have your wits scared out you is one of the greatest escapes.”
A pair of other new releases had more difficulty rounding up audiences. The Weinstein Co.’s “The Founder,” a biopic about Ray Kroc of McDonald’s starring Michael Keaton, launched in 1,100 theaters but gathered only $3.8 million. It will be hoping for an Oscar nomination on Tuesday to help it stand out of the adult-skewing releases.
Oscar favorite “La La Land” is still going strong with $8.4 million in its seventh week.
Bombing altogether was the Christian drama “The Resurrection of Gavin Stone,” which took in $1.4 million from 1,000 theaters.