With “Hunger Games” and “Twilight,” Lionsgate owned this weekend for five years. Warners reclaims it with a $180 million film that will launch a six-movie franchise. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” Warner Bros.’ return to the J.K Rowling empire, looks to score big this weekend. With a chance to reach $100 million, combined with several strong holdovers, the Top 10 box office could equal last year’s, which saw the final “Hunger Games” earn $102 million.
In this case, it is neither sequel nor prequel but an adjunct to Harry Potter’s world at Hogwarts. Given its nonlinear relation to Potter, some estimates are on the lower end with $70 million-$80 million domestic. However, that perspective disregards so many 2016 successes, from “Deadpool” and its R-rated, rom-com take on the Marvel universe to the more obscure Marvel character that is “Doctor Strange.” Based on those formulas — familiar worlds made fresh with new elements — “Fantastic Beasts” could earn more than $100 million.
Like “Doctor Strange” (which opened to $85 million), “Fantastic” is receiving unusually strong critical support for a mass-audience franchise film. Its cast includes adult-appeal actors like Eddie Redmayne and Colin Farrell along with Johnny Depp. The residual interest in Rowlings’ creations and the four-year gap since the last Potter film give the box office a leg up for reaching the $100 million mark for the seventh time this year; it would be the first since “The Secret Life of Pets” more than four months ago.
The biggest studios helped Warners by staying out of its way this week. (That changes next Wednesday when Disney has “Moana,” Paramount brings “Allied,” and 20th Century Fox releases “Rules Don’t Apply,” along with Broad Green’s “Bad Santa 2.” ). That leaves room for two Toronto International Film Festival premieres to test the waters in wide (but sub-2,000 theaters) rather than platform releases. STX has “The Edge of Seventeen” with Hailee Steinfeld as a teen beset by issues when her best friend starts dating her older brother.
Open Road Films
Positive reviews make it likely to score ahead of Open Road’s “Bleed for This,” in which Miles Teller stars as a boxer making a comeback after a near-fatal car accident. He and costar Aaron Eckhart have received acclaim ahead of the film’s overall mediocre reviews, and could suffer from similarities to three other boxing films over a little more than a year. “Edge” is projected to open around $10 million; “Bleed,” around half that amount.
Joining these in an expansion to around 1,100 theaters is Ang Lee’s “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” (Sony). It won’t have the benefit of the special presentations it received in its initial two theaters, which gave it a $56,000 per-theater average last weekend. And with disappointing reviews far short of the director’s breakout successes, expect it to end up with $5 million or less.
Ongoing positive reaction should keep both “Doctor Strange” (Disney) and “Trolls” (20th Century Fox) in decent shape, even with 50 percent drops. At that level, and a surge for “Beasts,” the Top Ten could equal or exceed the $163 million seen last year. However, where the lead up to Thanksgiving usually provides the best gross since summer, the $180 million figure from two weeks ago (when “Strange” opened) is likely out of reach.
The specialized/limited world is led by two significant openings. Kenneth Longeran’s “Manchester by the Sea,” distributed by Roadside Attractions in partnership with Amazon, opens in four top-end New York/Los Angeles theaters. It looks to be one of the major awards contenders of the year, with reviews that rank just below “Moonlight.”
Focus has Tom Ford’s art-world thriller “Nocturnal Animals,” with Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal. It also debuts in New York and Los Angeles in eight theaters. Its reviews have been consensus favorable, but so far not quite at the level of the director’s 2009 debut, “A Single Man.”