LOS ANGELES — Opening in theaters amid controversy over animal treatment on set and calls for a boycott, A Dog’s Purpose still managed to earn $18.4 million, according to studio estimates Jan. 29.
Tracking expectations had pegged the family film to open in the mid $20-million range, but it had a healthy debut nonetheless for a movie that cost only $22 million to produce.
Representatives of Universal Pictures, which distributed the Amblin-produced film starring Dennis Quaid, say the opening was in line with their hopes.
Audiences gave the film an A’ CinemaScore, indicating that word of mouth should be positive going forward.
“It’s a great start for what I think is going to be a long-term playout on the title,” said Nick Carpou, Universal’s President of Domestic Distribution.
First place at the box office went again to M. Night Shyamalan’s multiple personality thriller Split.
It grossed $26.3 million in its second weekend in theaters — a relatively minuscule 34 percent drop from its first weekend, which is nearly unheard of for a horror thriller.
Rounding out the top five were Hidden Figures in third with $14 million, new opener Resident Evil: The Final Chapter in fourth with $13.9 million, and La La Land in fifth place with $12.1 million.
Damien Chazelle’s candy colored musical crossed the $100 million mark domestically after earning 14 Oscar nominations that helped fuel its earnings.
“They definitely got a nice boost,” comScore Senior Media Analyst Paul Dergarabedian said. “They’re riding that perfect wave of Oscar attention with the perfect release pattern.”
But even with the newly anointed Oscar nominees and the sleeper hit of Split, many eyes were on A Dog’s Purpose this weekend.
On Jan. 18, TMZ released a video of a frightened dog from A Dog’s Purpose that apparently was forced into rushing water during the making of the film. The footage quickly went viral.
PETA called for a boycott of the film, while the studio and filmmakers canceled its press junket and premiere but still proceeded with releasing the film in over 3,000 locations as planned.
Carpou acknowledged that the video, which he and the filmmakers have said is “highly edited,” surfaced at “a very inopportune moment in the buildup to the release of our movie” and they knew that it would have some effect.
And yet, Carpou said, “It’s very difficult to qualify what is a success for this film by trying to quantify negative result because of some controversy.”
Other industry observers, like Dergarabedian, note that the video and the resulting media attention actually heightened awareness about the movie.
Dergarabedian also thinks that, even without the controversy, the weekend likely would have played out in the same way, with A Dog’s Purpose taking second place to Split.
(LINDSEY BAHR, AP Film Writer)