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Weekend Box Office Preview: ‘Suicide Squad’ Will Live at #1, While ‘Pete’s Dragon’ Fights Off ‘Sausage Party’

The DC Comics antiheroes live to fight another day, but will Disney's dragon roast Seth Rogen's "Sausage Party"?

Sausage Party

“Sausage Party”

Columbia Pictures

Critics be damned, but Warner Bros.’ latest D.C. Comics offering, “Suicide Squad,” will again prevail at the box office this weekend, against three new wide releases: “Sausage Party” (Sony), “Pete’s Dragon” (Buena Vista) and “Florence Foster Jenkins” (Paramount). However, it’s unclear whether “Sausage” or “Dragon” will come in second place.

Suicide Squad

“Suicide Squad”

Warner Bros

Also up for debate is how much, if any, improvement we’ll see from the same weekend in 2015, when “Straight Outta Compton” dominated a Top Ten that totaled $130 million. Assuming “Suicide” doesn’t replicate the 69% second weekend collapse of “Batman v Superman” (that would place it around $40 million), and the new openings do expected business, $140 million or more is likely.

While holding the top spot for two weekends is always a nice bragging right, the real fate of “Suicide” lies in determining the profit it can eke out against a production and marketing budget of more than $300 million. Judging by its weekday take so far, the good news is it’s setting records for the month — a period not known for top-grossing releases. Bad news it’s not performing quite as well as “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the previous record holder for August.

Here’s the math: “Suicide” earned  $27.4 million Monday-Tuesday — 20.5% of its opening weekend of more than $133 million. “Galaxy” had a better total of 25%, suggesting superior audience reaction. The Marvel films had a huge 3.5X multiple, just missing out as top release of 2014. At the other extreme, “B v S” only doubled its domestic opening. (Its first weekday numbers aren’t a valid comparison, since it opened outside summer playtime.)

Best guess: “Suicide” drops over 60%, with a gross somewhere around $50 million, putting it over $230 million for its first 10 days. And its number will likely double the best of the openers.

Although the films are quite different, both “Sausage Party” and “Pete’s Dragon” share positive early reaction and the hope that their mid-range openings lead to long runs of a month or so, when the competition could decrease.

Sausage Party

“Sausage Party”

Columbia Pictures

From Megan Ellison’s always inventive Annapurna Studios, the mostly animated and very R-rated “Sausage Party” has been getting positive buzz since its spring South by Southwest premiere. A strong ensemble voice cast, led by co-writer Seth Rogan, tells the story of packaged grocery goods unaware of their fate (much of it raunchy).

There aren’t many precedents for adult-oriented animated or similarly non-live action films. The most recent examples (“Team America – World Police” and “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut”) opened with adjusted grosses just below $20 million). In a summer with only two comedies to top $100 million (“Central Intelligence” and “Ghostbusters”), the timing and advance interest could propel this considerably higher, though its range could be as low as $15 million. Which, with a budget of just $20 million, isn’t so bad.

"Pete's Dragon"

“Pete’s Dragon”

Disney’s remake “Pete’s Dragon” is expected to open around the same range, but will need a sustained run to justify its $65 million price tag. Live-action fantasy worked wonders for the studio with “The Jungle Book,” only to fail with “Alice Through the Looking Glass.” This dragon-centered tale varies from its 1977 original (which was a musical), but keeps its core story about a boy who imagines the creature. Originality could help it longer term, but depress its initial returns (particularly with the school year soon to start, plus the Olympics competing). But even if it opens to a projected $20-25 million, it could be around for a while.

"Florence Foster Jenkins"

“Florence Foster Jenkins”

Paramount Pictures

Paramount’s release schedule has been the leanest among the majors, and they’ve made a practice of fleshing it out with adult-oriented titles. “The Big Short” was a success, “Anomalisa” wasn’t, “The Little Prince” wound up on Netflix. Paramount acquired “Florence Foster Jenkins” based on footage that screened during the 2015 Toronto Film Festival, and it’s the first of these specialized titles to have an initial nationwide break.

Directed by Stephen Frears (“The Queen,” “Philomena”), this is a film that might have been expected to open late in the year from Weinstein, Fox Searchlight, or similar in a platform run. The new trend, particularly outside of awards season, is for a range of distributors to release star-driven, older-audience films to multi-hundred initial theaters (See: “Woman in Gold,” “Love & Mercy,” “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”).

“Florence” stars Meryl Streep in the titular role, an untalented New York socialite who used her fortune to propel herself into a singing career. Paramount will open the film in about 1,500 theaters. This is the second film version of the story released in the U.S. this year; Cohen Media released “Margueritte,” a somewhat fictionalized version (the character now French) that won its lead actress a Cesar and made about $500,000 at the box office this spring.

“Florence” has gotten favorable reviews, with Streep getting most of the attention. It is sitting at a 70 Metacritic score, which actually is the highest for any of her live-action films in over a decade.

Streep has starred in August-opening movies for three of the last years, with declining results. “Hope Springs” in 2012 opened a little under $15 million and eventually earend $63 million. “The Giver” in 2014 did $12 million on its way to $45 million. Both opened in more than 2,300 theaters. Last summer”Ricki and the Flash” took in $6.6 million on 1,603 screens, on its way to $27 million.

“Florence” has already earned about $10 million overseas, with two thirds in the U.K. and Australia. Figure its domestic start to be closer to “Ricki” than her two earlier August releases.

Hell or High Water

“Hell or High Water”

CBS Films/Lionsgate

Among more limited releases, the one with the most attention is “Hell or High Water” (Lionsgate, from their partner CBS Films). Cannes-premiered and sustaining a strong critical response, it is the first American film for British director David Mackenzie (“Starred Up,” “Young Adam.”). It stars Chris Pine and Ben Foster as Texas brothers joining forces to save their ranch. Jeff Bridges costars. It opens limited in New York and Los Angeles and a handful of other large cities as well as additional select runs inTexas.

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