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Hurricane crossing paths with 'The Girl on the Train'

Movie studios employ a lot of strategy for the timing of their releases. They account for season, school schedules, overlap with other films, proximity to certain holidays and many other variables to maximize box office potential.

But there is no accounting for Mother Nature.

The weekend of Oct. 7 will see three debut releases and one massive hurricane creeping onto the Eastern seaboard from the Atlantic. Theater closures will likely be the rule for coastal towns from Florida to North Carolina beginning Oct. 6. AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. and Regal Entertainment Group each already announced closures for some of their affected properties "to ensure the safety of our employees and guests," as Regal put it in a press release.

Deadline Hollywood forecasts a 5% dent in weekend ticket sales. Weather events affect ticket sales often enough, with one of the most recent interruptions coming from snowstorm Jonas in the third week of January. But Hurricane Matthew, which has grown to a Category 4 storm with the potential to develop into a Category 5, will be adding additional pressure to a fall box office that is already down 9% year over year.

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The weather could impact otherwise bullish expectations for Universal Pictures release of "The Girl on the Train," a suspense mystery that launched from an international best-selling novel to the silver screen. Variety forecasts a $26 million opening, which it notes is a sturdy debut result for a $40 million production. Deadline expects the debut to land in the high-$20 million range. BoxOffice.com pegged the title at $26.5 million for the weekend.

With a twisting, nonlinear storyline and the promise of a surprise ending, "The Girl on the Train" is most often compared to "Gone Girl," the 2014 smash hit that collected $37.5 million at opening and $458.4 million in total revenue after just $61.6 million in production costs. While "The Girl on the Train" will likely end up in the black by most opening forecasts, Variety and Deadline note that it will probably not reach the heights of "Gone Girl," which benefited from more star power and better ratings. "The Girl on the Train" was running a 48% "rotten" score on Rotten Tomatoes, as of 3:45 p.m. ET, Oct. 6, while "Gone Girl" settled with a "Certified Fresh" rating of 88%.

But in general, female-led thrillers like "Fifty Shades of Grey" and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" have been doing well. In a list of five such titles compiled by SNL Kagan, an offering of S&P Global Market Intelligence, the average profit margin was 29.6% with two films — "Side Effects" and "The Lovely Bones" — leaving theaters in the red.

Also debuting over the rainy weekend, biopic "The Birth of a Nation" follows slave revolt leader Nat Turner during the early history of the U.S. Besides just poor weather, the film is also being plagued by sexual abuse scandals pegged on both director Nate Parker and co-writer Jean Celestin. The negative sentiment could weigh not only on box office results but also the film’s Oscar potential, Variety reports. That is Oscar potential that Fox Searchlight paid $17.5 million for when it picked up the title after its screening at Sundance Film Festival.

The reviews of the film are strong, with a 78% "Certified Fresh" rating as of 3:45 p.m. ET, Oct. 6. Comparisons are also solid, with period-pieces like "Lincoln" and "12 Years a Slave" collecting profit margins near 40%. Still, Variety and Deadline only see the film opening to $8 million, give or take, and BoxOffice.com is a bit more bullish with a $9.5 million forecast.

While the adults get their thrills and inspiration from "The Girl on the Train" and "The Birth of a Nation," they can shuttle the children across the hall to "Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life," a younger-skewing novel adaptation. Deadline expects the movie to collect $6 million to $8 million over the weekend. Variety offers a forecast at the top of that range at $8 million, and BoxOffice.com takes the bear case with a $6 million estimate.

"Middle School" is comparing easily to "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" and its subsequent films. That franchise delivered mostly good results, with the first two in the series ending in the black by double-digit margins. The third of those titles barely missed profitability at the box office with a 2.9% profit loss. However, if the high end forecasts are correct, the $11 million "Middle School" production should be able to find firm financial footing.

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