The Girl on the Train derailed the competition its first weekend out.
The psychological thriller chugged to an easy No. 1 with $24.7 million, steamrolling The Birth of a Nation and Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, according to studio estimates from comScore.
Adapted from Paula Hawkins' 2015 best-seller of the same name, Girl stars Emily Blunt as a dubious drunkard who gets swept up in a murder mystery after a woman she watches from the train (Haley Bennett) goes missing. Despite praise for Blunt's performance, most critics lambasted the film (44% positive reviews on aggregate site RottenTomatoes.com), while moviegoers' reactions weren't much better (56% say they "liked it"). It falls short of Oscar-nominated thriller Gone Girl, a frequent comparison, which made its debut with $37.5 million in 2014 on its way to $167.8 million total.
Still, with a budget of only $45 million, Girl should fare OK, says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore.
Meanwhile, Nate Parker's divisive Birth got off to a lackluster start. The R-rated biopic, which follows Nat Turner's 1831 slave rebellion, opened in 2,100 theaters with just $7.1 million for No. 6. The well-reviewed drama was snatched up by Fox Searchlight for a record-breaking $17.5 million after it was unveiled in January at Sundance Film Festival, where it won top prizes and was tipped as a major awards contender in light of the #OscarsSoWhite outcry.
But Parker — Birth's writer, director, producer and star — has been embroiled in controversy in recent months, since allegations resurfaced that he had been charged and acquitted in a 1999 rape case while he was enrolled at Penn State. The accuser's brother revealed in August that she committed suicide in 2012. Parker's co-writer on the film, Jean Celestin, was convicted of sexually assaulting the woman and served time in jail before the ruling was overturned.
The filmmaker has remained on the defensive leading up to Birth's release, making no apology on 60 Minutes last week and attacking the media's coverage of the case on Steve Harvey.
Fellow newcomer Middle School flunked out in its debut. The PG-rated comedy, adapted from James Patterson's best-selling book series and starring Gilmore Girls' Lauren Graham, managed just $6.9 million for seventh place.
Holdovers made up the rest of the top five. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children held strong in its second weekend with $15 million for No. 2 ($51.1 million total). Deepwater Horizon came in third with $11.8 million ($38.5 million), The Magnificent Seven in fourth with $9.2 million ($75.9 million) and Storks was No. 5 with $8.5 million ($50.1 million).
Final numbers are expected Monday.