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Box Office Winners and Losers: Brad Pitt’s Semi-Glorious Tank Bastards Storm Hollywood

Also: ‘The Book of Life,’ ‘Dear White People,’ and ‘Birdman’ do their own damage.

How many dead Nazis does it take to win the box office? Answer: a shit-ton. But as any studio exec worth his/her salt knows, toasted Nazis are worth their weight in box office gold. Exhibit No. 1: Fury. David Ayer’s World War II tank opus served them up like streusel and led the weekend box office to victory, making October a magical month in Hollywood. Despite competing with Gravity’s phenomenal drawing power, every October weekend in 2014 so far has outperformed October 2013: This weekend in particular rose 27 percent and now Hollywood’s profit haircut has shrunk to a less intimidating 3.9 percent. That’s still not good per se, but the Chicken Littles (self-included) have stopped look for fresh pieces of sky to crash into the multiplex.

More importantly, it felt like everyone won at the box office this weekend. Well, not quite everyone. Let’s just say every audience — from Sherman tank enthusiasts to couples with revenge fantasies about their better halves to post-Obama kids in need of some Latino-inspired animation — got something it wanted. And I haven’t even mentioned Michael Keaton facing down his comic-book alter ego on Broadway yet. When even Keaton in an art film has a banner day at the box office, things are good.

Winners: Killing Nazis

What happens when you give Lt. Aldo Raine a tank, a comparatively staid Shia LaBeouf, and a lemming-like platoon of SS cannon fodder? A $23 million opening weekend. If you thought Inglourious Basterds had forever exploded the WWII subgenre, you thought wrong. Unlike old soldiers, World War II never dies, and it doesn’t even fade away. Ayer’s Fury (i.e., Brad Pitt in a high-caliber tin can) managed to harvest something from that well-farmed cinematic field. Costing $68 million to produce, with another huge chunk for marketing, Fury’s a decent, if not stellar success: It’s a little middle of the road for Pitt, who can range from $19 million in the case of Moneyball to $66 million for World War Z. And Fury did open below the most optimistic $30 million projections for the film, but dead Nazi money is dead Nazi money. What studio would turn its nose up at that?

Still, Ayer should be happy. It’s his best opening ever and salves the $10 million sting he suffered attempting to resurrect the Governator’s film career with Sabotage. That said, Fury probably won’t get much Oscar love, but if it can eke out $80 million domestically and more internationally, Ayer won’t look so crazy for making Jon Bernthal and Michael Peña go battle royal on each other during rehearsals.

Winner: The Guillermo-verse

After conquering summer television with Corey Stoll’s monster hairpiece in The Strain, Guillermo del Toro turned his whimsically macabre gaze back at film this weekend, producing Jorge R. Gutierrez’s Diá de los Muertosinspired animated film The Book of Life. “Someone made a kiddie film out of that funky Mexican holiday with the skull masks?” you ask. Hey, we still close post offices for Christopher Columbus, so why not? It turned out to be a pretty savvy bet, too, as the well-reviewed movie made a nice $17 million on a $50 million budget, meaning right now a fraught junior studio exec is busy somewhere assembling a whole slate of film ideas inspired by cross-cultural holidays: Chinese New Year with the voice talents of Mike Myers and Fan Bingbing, summer 2019, folks.

Winner: Dear White People

On the indie front, Justin Simien’s Dear White People lived up to the sizzling hype it generated out of Sundance — and then some. It raked in $344,136 in just 11 theaters around the country, for an impressive per-screen average of $31,285. In fact, it’s outpaced the other Sundance darling Whiplash, which means its new “two black friend minimum” could actually be, you know, a thing if Dear White People keeps raking in the cash over the next few weeks.

Winner: Crazy White People

Of course, everyone’s favorite Midwest-stranded psycho WASPs, Nick and Amy Dunne, continued to bludgeon the box office into submission. Gone Girl held on for second place in its third week at $17.8 million, passing the $100 million mark to gross $107 million by the close of the weekend. That will make it David Fincher’s most profitable film once all the hatched chickens are counted, the only questions being how much better than Benjamin Button it can do and whether Tyler Perry will convince Fincher to direct his next stab at Oscar bait.

But no one is doing full-tilt insanity better at the moment than Michael Keaton, and he knocked it out of the park with Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Birdman this weekend: The film festival darling grossed $415,000 from just four theaters in New York and Los Angeles, for a jaw-dropping per-theater average of $103,750, second only to Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel earlier this year. Since Budapest grossed almost $173 million worldwide, the sky could be the limit for Birdman. After all, who hasn’t been dying to see Michael Keaton streak wide-eyed through Times Square in nothing but his tighty-whities?

Loser: Nicholas Sparks

Yup, you read that right. No, the Four Horsemen aren’t at the door. But Nicholas Sparks — as surefire a bet as dead Nazis of late — ate it at the box office. More specifically, the latest adaptation of his work, The Best of Me, earned a mere $10 million, the lowest opening weekend of any Sparks adaptation. Although the budget was a modest $26 million, those aren’t the kind of numbers we expect out of Mr. My-Girlfriend-Won’t-Stop-Talking-About–The Notebook, because people sure don’t go to a Nic Sparks movie for the critical acclaim. Maybe there are only so many Sparks films a boyfriend will let himself be dragged to before he puts his foot down and demands Fury tickets (then apologizes to his girlfriend and cajoles her with promises of Brad Pitt’s swoony eyes). Well, let me reassure you: What Fury promises in terms of Nazi body count and smoldering Pitt gazes, it delivers. Like I said, this weekend there was something for everyone.

Your Top Five

1. Fury, 173, Sony/QED, $23.5 million

2. Gone Girl, Fox/New Regency, $17.8 million ($107.1 million domestic total)

3. The Book of Life, Fox/ReelFX, $17 million

4. Alexander … Very Bad Day, Disney, $12 million ($36.9 million domestic total)

5. The Best of Me, Relativity, $10.2 million