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Enough With The Oscar Movies: ‘Split’ and ‘xXx: The Return of Xander Cage’ Will Boost January Box Office

The return of M. Night Shyamalan and Vin Diesel could provide January a much-needed lift at the box office.

“Split”

Finally, new films that could lead Top 10 box office this weekend. Two veteran directors return, with M. Night Shyamalan’s “Split” (Universal) and D.J. Caruso’s “xXx: The Return of Xander Cage” (Paramount) competing with the very strong “Hidden Figures” (20th Century Fox) for the top spot.

At a minimum, this weekend’s totals should stem the box-office slide we’ve seen year. Last year, the same weekend managed only $95 million despite three new releases with “Dirty Grandpa,” “The Boy,” and “The Fifth Wave.” This year’s new films should perform better. As usual, there’s competition from NFL championship games on Sunday, but at least the damage is limited to one day.

Both “Split” and “xXx” target broad-based and international audiences. And with so much studio product now aiming for greater foreign appeal, their performance will be viewed as an early gauge for 2017.

“Split” likely will end up a bit ahead. This is Shyamalan’s second low-budget horror film made in partnership with genre maven Jason Blum after the very successful “The Visit.” Universal also slotted that film in a non-prime period to $65 million domestic on a $5 million budget. So far, it’s received reviews better than any of Shyamalan’s previous films, including “The Sixth Sense.” The film (starring  James McAvoy as a kidnapper with 24 personalities) comes after two horror films in the last two weeks (“Underworld: Blood Wars” and “Bye Bye Man”), so its strong advance word could provide a needed boost.

The third film in the “xXx” franchise comes more than a decade after the second, “State of the Union” (2005) and with a new studio (Paramount, after Sony originally). It’s also a return for Vin Diesel (he skipped the second). However, Diesel doesn’t guarantee success. While he leads the massively popular “Fast and Furious” franchise, his other films have not opened to more than $20 million going back to 2005. The original “xXx” in 2002 opened to the equivalent of $65 million in today’s ticket prices, so there’s a chance interest could be reignited.

“Hidden Figures”

Both “Split” and “Return of Xander Cage” are projected to open within a few million of $20 million (higher or lower). “Hidden Figures” should drop some from the terrific $21 million last weekend ($27 million for four days) to the mid-teens. That level would still be excellent, and only a modest drop for what has become an unexpectedly strong wide-audience appeal success.

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“The Founder”

Two other films open in just over 1,000 theaters, though with different appeal. Weinstein launches the McDonalds’ owner biopic “The Founder” after a one-week Los Angeles qualifying run (which hoped to position star Michael Keaton for an unlikely Best Actor nomination). It’s getting somewhat favorable reviews, but the wider initial release suggests hope for more general interest and questions whether it made sense to brave the platform/limited release pattern that propelled Keaton’s “Birdman” and “Spotlight” to success.

Also debuting is “The Resurrection of Gavin Stone” (High Top), a comedy aimed at faith-based audiences. The story centers on one-time child actor whose community service sentence involves playing Christ in a megachurch Passion Play.

Lionsgate expects continued strong results for “La La Land” in the last weekend before Oscar nominations, and will be keeping a close eye on “Patriots Day.” It’s the second wide weekend for the latter, with hopes for word of mouth to stabilize shaky results.

The highest-profile limited opener is “The Red Turtle” (Sony Pictures Classics), which also had a qualifying run to position it for a possible nomination for Best Animated Feature. The Belgian film has received excellent reviews so far, which should boost its New York/Los Angeles runs initially and beyond.

 

 

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