By Dave McNary
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - M. Night Shyamalan's "Split" has turned into a horror hit with a surprisingly strong $40.2 million in its opening weekend at 3,038 North American locations.
"Split," starring James McAvoy as a man with 24 different personalities, performed far above recent expectations for Universal and Blumhouse. It easily topped the 2015 launch of Shyamalan's found-footage horror movie "The Visit," which scored an opening weekend of $25.4 million.
"Split" doubled Vin Diesel's launch of "xXx: Return of Xander Cage," which is heading for a second-place finish for Paramount with $20 million at 3,651 sites -- in line with recent forecasts. Fox's historical drama "Hidden Figures" maintained its impressive performance in third with $16.3 million at 3,416 theaters for a domestic total of $84.2 million.
Michael Keaton's biopic "The Founder" showed little traction for the Weinstein Company with a modest $3.8 million weekend at 1,115 locations.
Shyamalan produced and directed "Split" from his own script in which McAvoy's multiple characters capture three young women and hold them hostage. The movie, which costs under $10 million, generated the fourth-highest opening for a Shyamalan title following "Signs" with $60 million, "The Village" with $50.7 million, and "The Last Airbender" with $40.3 million.
"Split" carries a 76% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with McAvoy's performance receiving strong reviews. Shyamalan is self-financing the project and re-teamed with horror specialist Jason Blum and his Blumhouse Productions after collaborating on "The Visit," which grossed nearly $100 million worldwide on a $5 million budget.
"Xander Cage" stars Diesel as a skilled government operative character who debuted in the 2002 movie "xXx." The film also stars Samuel L. Jackson, Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, Ruby Rose, Kris Wu, and Nina Dobrev.
D.J. Caruso directs from a script by F. Scott Frazier, which centers on Diesel's Xander Cage coming out of self-imposed exile in a race to recover a seemingly unstoppable weapon known as Pandora's Box.
"Xander Cage" has an $85 million budget with backing from Chinese companies Huahua Media and Shanghai Film Group, which limits Paramount's exposure to about 50%. Paramount and the two companies announced a three-year $1 billion co-financing deal on Thursday.
"Hidden Figures," which won the first two weekends of 2017, held well with a 22% decline during the three days. The drama may be a major beneficiary from Tuesday's Academy Awards nominations.
Illumination-Universal's fifth weekend of "Sing" led the rest of the pack in fourth with $9 million at 3,193 locations for a 33-day take of $249.4 million. Lionsgate's awards contender "La La Land" finished a close fifth with $8.4 million at 1,865 sites to push its total to nearly $90 million.