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Box Office Preview: ‘Suicide Squad’ Poised to Set August Record

"Suicide Squad" will open well this weekend, propelling the box office back into record territory. But will it play? That's the question.

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad

“Suicide Squad”

Suicide Squad” (Warner Bros./DC Comics) will push the summer box office way ahead. The last two weeks have seen a strong rebound after a summer down over 20% from last year’s record-setter. And “Suicide Squad,” despite weak reviews, won’t disappoint.

With projections approaching $150 million at the high end ($120 million at the low), “Squad” will even in adjusted numbers outperform any previous August release. (The record in raw numbers is “Guardians of the Galaxy” at $94 million, adjusted $101 million; “Rush Hour 2” adjusted is $103 million).

That returns the 2016 box office to the record levels of February and March set by Marvel’s “Deadpool” and DC’s “Batman v Superman.”  Year to date remains slightly up (2.6%). “Squad” will increase that number.

The weekend one year ago saw the debut of “Straight Outta Compton” and a Top Ten of $113 million, less than the gross “Squad” will likely accomplish on its own.

Though fan interest and pre-sales remain high, just like “BvS,” advance reviews are, to be generous, weak. Its advance Metacritic score is 41, the low end of mixed reviews, coincidentally the same as “BvS.” Its 27% Tomatometer rating has led to calls from some fanboys to revolt against Rotten Tomatoes. But part of the price of high advance interest is more people get wind of the early response.

This didn’t keep “BvS” from scoring big initially, and it won’t for “Squad” either. But it could depress the number somewhat, and more significantly, since reaction from critics and viewers likely will overlap a bit, could see its ultimate performance lag. “BvS” ended up with only a 2X domestic multiple. Among the top 50 opening weekends of all time, that’s the worst performance ever. (The general multiple averages around 2.5X for this level of huge opening.)

Ben Affleck and Zack Snyder on the set of "Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice"

Ben Affleck and Zack Snyder on the set of “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice”

We’ll be able to judge quickly. Second day falls (off the combined Thursday night and Friday totals) tend to be in the 20% range for powerhouse openers. “Captain America: Civil War” in May and “Guardians of the Galaxy” as an August release both dropped 18% their first Saturdays. But “BvS” dropped 38%, suggesting a disappointing initial reaction.

With criticism of the Batman and Superman franchises fresh in their minds, D.C. Comics and Warners could use “Squad” as a new tentpole. With a reported budget range of $175 -250 million and likely huge worldwide returns, they should be able to profit from this. But domestic audiences are getting more selective, and they also need to create good will for future efforts. That is the biggest question going into the weekend.

The results at any level will be the biggest in their careers for several creative participants, including director David Ayer (“Fury” at $85 million domestic was his previous best). But also among its ensemble cast it looks like the biggest opener ever for Will Smith. The irony of course is he chose this over the “Independence Day” remake as his return to tentpole movies after recent mid-range budget efforts.

Whatever its returns, it appears very possible the Top Ten totals could double a year ago. That weekend saw a $113 million total. In a worst case situation it would be hard to envision under $200 million, and over $225 million is in range. So any negativity over the result would be getting past the likely evidence of major moviegoing this weekend.

Matt Damon in "Jason Bourne"

Matt Damon in “Jason Bourne”

Universal

Most the rest of the business will come from holdovers, with “Jason Bourne” (Universal) vulnerable to competition from “Squad” and a summer-long trend for non-animated openers to fall above average on their second weekends. Still, at $20-25 million it should easily outdo the other new wide opener. That’s “9 Lives” from Luc Besson’s Europacorp. The live-action family comedy with Kevin Spacey voicing the lead cat character is actually an English-language French production. Its Hollywood pedigree is high, with director Barry Sonnenfeld once a major source of hits (“Addams Family,” all three “Men in Black” movies). Anything over $10 million would be a surprise, and that number could land it no better than #6 for the weekend.

The specialized scene will once again be led by a Sundance 2016 stand out film, this time Ira Sachs’ “Little Men (Magnolia).” Last weekend three  openers—”Indignation” (Roadside Attractions), “Equity” and “Gleason” (Open Road) — all showed initial promise.

“Little Men” (Magnolia) is the latest film from the veteran indie director Ira Sachs. Following two acclaimed films involving gay relationships (“Keep the Lights On” and “Love Is Strange”) this latest film follows two Brooklyn teens, recent friends, as their neighborhood undergoes major changes. With Sachs making multiple appearances, this will open in two Manhattan theaters backed by a high 87 Metacritic score, one of the best of the year.

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