Hidden Figures Soared at the Box Office This Weekend, While Live by Night Died by Wide Release

Hidden Figures Day 40
Taraji P. Henson in Hidden Figures. Photo: Hopper Stone/Twentieth Century Fox

The Main Story
Hidden Figures topped the box office once again, and not just on any weekend: It was the weekend of MLK Day, which the president-elect spent attacking one of the major figures of the civil rights movement. Hidden Figures showed a remarkable hold from its wide-release debut, falling just 10 percent in its second weekend, and it comfortably won the four-day with about $25 million, giving it nearly $60 million already. At a mere $25 million budget, the film has already proven a solid return on investment for Fox, and its continued relevance going forward — in case you’ve forgotten, the inauguration is next weekend — could give it unusually long legs, particularly if a Best Picture nomination comes along with the financial success.

What’s also notable about Hidden Figures is how rare it is: It’s the first movie with multiple female leads to top the box office two weekends in a row since The Help in 2011. Moreover, those leads are black; according to the University of Southern California, only 17 of the top 100 films in 2014 featured either a lead or co-lead who was played by an actor of color. And, as Kyle Buchanan pointed out earlier this year, often when Hollywood does cast black actors, it obscures them either with makeup or CGI. Hidden Figures has yet to debut overseas, and its appeal worldwide certainly pales in comparison to that of typical studio fare, so it won’t single-handedly turn Hollywood away from blockbusters about robots and superheroes. But the film’s success does reinforce the case that distributors ignore actors and characters of color to their own detriment, both culturally and financially.

The ongoing success of Hidden Figures is a far cry from the welcome received by another of this weekend’s high-profile offerings: After three weeks in just four theaters, Live by Night went wide this weekend, expanding to a substantial 2,822 screens. For its efforts, it earned an estimated $5.4 million over the three-day weekend, good for an average of about $1,922 per location. That is very bad. How bad is it? It’s less than what Collateral Beauty made in its first weekend last year; it’s less than what