Exodus: Gods and Kings opened this weekend in the U.S. with an estimated $24.5 million — and one of the most diverse audiences for a major release this year. According to figures provided by 20th Century Fox, 20% of Exodus ticket buyers were black, and another 18% were Latino. That is well above the average audience makeup for similar films from Fox, or, really, any major studio.
Diversity at the box office has been on Hollywood's mind lately, especially as Latino audiences have grown at movie theaters while film attendance has otherwise largely shrunk. But what makes the diversity of Exodus' audience particularly noteworthy is the scrutiny the film has received for the racial makeup of its cast. Even though the movie, based on the biblical story of Moses' struggle to free the Hebrews from slavery, is ostensibly set in ancient Egypt, all the major speaking roles were played by white actors — a decision that Scott seemed to loathe defending in interviews leading up to Exodus' release.
Despite its large black and Latino audience numbers, the film's overall debut box office figure is neither remarkably big nor remarkably small. While it is a little more than half of the $43.7 million debut of March's Noah, a similarly gritty and revisionist take on a well-known Old Testament story, Exodus' debut is also roughly in line with movies that have opened in the same weekend (that aren't directed by Peter Jackson). Adjusting for ticket price inflation, Exodus also opened at almost the exact same figure as director Ridley Scott's last biblically themed film, 2005's Kingdom of Heaven.
Exodus' box office returns certainly don't negate the validity of the argument against casting white actors as a "neutral" choice for stories in which the real-life racial makeup is far more diverse. The biblical nature of Exodus likely also contributed to the larger proportion of black and Latino audiences, given that both those demographic groups tend to attend church more than white people. And Exodus' "B-" rating from the audience polling firm CinemaScore indicates that word-of-mouth on the film will not be particularly strong.
Hopefully, one day in the not too distant future, we can know just how successful a film like this could be at the box office if the racial makeup of its cast reflected the diversity of its potential audience.
Here are the estimated top 10 box office figures for Friday to Sunday, courtesy of Box Office Mojo:
1. Exodus: Gods and Kings* — $24.5 million
2. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 — $13.2 million
3. Penguins of Madagascar — $7.3 million
4. Top Five* — $7.2 million
5. Big Hero 6 — $6.1 million
6. Interstellar — $5.5 million
7. Horrible Bosses 2 — $4.6 million
8. Dumb and Dumber To — $2.8 million
9. The Theory of Everything — $2.5 million
10. Wild — $1.6 million