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Paging ‘Doctor Strange’ and the ‘Arrival’ of ‘Almost Christmas’: Box Office Weekend Preview

Three new wide releases debut over Veterans Day weekend, but it's "Doctor Strange" and "Trolls" that will still come out on top.

“Doctor Strange”

Led by the Disney/Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” and “Trolls” (20th Century Fox/DreamWorks Animation), the Top 10 box office continues to be strong. And with three new wide releases, totals could be 20 percent over last year.

Those new films — “Arrival” (Paramount), “Almost Christmas” (Universal), and “Shut In” (EuropaCorp) — won’t top the second-week blockbusters. Even if  “Doctor Strange” and “Trolls” each drop 50 percent, they’d gross $42 million and $23 million, respectively. None of the new titles are likely to cross $20 million, though “Arrival” and “Almost Christmas” could come close.


This weekend gets an added boost from Veteran’s Day on Friday, a Federal holiday that gives many school kids the day off. That will boost all grosses, but particularly “Trolls” and also the already well-received “Doctor Strange.”

The release of  Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival” suggests that’s there’s a new seasonal genre: Each fall, there’s Oscar-level director with a sci-fi/outer space film. However, don’t expect this one to have the impact of Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” or Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar.”


What it does have is strong reviews, as well as a cast (led by Amy Adams, as a linguist sent to connect with possible aliens) that brings credibility with older audiences. Villeneuve began as a director of French-language Canadian films (“Incendies”), and has become a studio director of note with both “Prisoners” and “Sicario” getting wide release and acclaim. He will direct the “Blade Runner” sequel for next year.

Independently financed for around $40 million, Paramount acquired the film for North America and other territories for $20 million to flesh out its spare release schedule. The release date gives time for an awards-oriented film to breathe and become established before moving into the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Estimates are $12 million-$18 million; the guess here is it will get closer to the higher number.


Also likely to have a mid-teen or higher opening is “Almost Christmas” (Universal), a $17 million comedy with an African-American cast about an alienated family getting together for the holidays. Coming three weeks after the unexpected success of “Boo! A Madea Holiday,” this strong ensemble film from producer Will Packer (“Ride Along,” “The Wedding Ringer”) could come at a good moment for needed laughs. With its modest budget, it has a shot of continuing Packer’s record of $50 million+ grosses for lower-cost movies.

Another longtime producer (and frequent director) Luc Besson has “Shut In,” the third domestic wide release from his Europacorp. Both “The Transporter Refueled” and “Nine Lives” opened in the range of $6 million-$7 million. This low-budget, Canadian-made French thriller features Naomi Watts as psychologist caring for her paralyzed son in a remote snowbound house confronted by a threat from within. Expect it to gross in the range of the company’s earlier films.


The limited openers are led by two films in the awards conversation. Ang Lee’s Iraq War veteran story, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” (Sony), opens at one theater each in New York and Los Angeles; these are equipped to show it in its original 3D 4K 120 frames/per/second format (the Lincoln Square and Cinerama Dome, respectively) in advance of its initial expansion.

Once considered a top year-end Oscar contender, the $40 million adaptation of Ben Fountain’s novel so far is positioned at the low end of the director’s career in terms of reviews. The current low 50s Metacritic score is below “Hulk” and “Taking Woodstock.” Still, with his reputation and a strong Sony push it could land grosses among the top platform films of the year.

Also opening is Paul Verhoeven’s French erotic thriller “Elle,” with veteran actress Isabelle Huppert getting some of the best reviews of her career. This is the second Sony Pictures Classics release in two weeks as they roll out their top year-end product. “Elle” is France’s foreign-language submission, and looks to join Sweden’s “A Man Called Ove” (Music Box) among those looking to get a head start by making an early theatrical splash.

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