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‘Elvis’ May Not Be King: Here’s Why ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Could Return to #1 at the Box Office

More deja vu: This weekend might resemble the way business used to be — even if the "Elvis" and "The Black Phone" debuts are consigned to playing backup.

“Elvis”

If you thought last weekend was unpredictable with the disappointment of Disney’s “Lightyear,” you’re going to love this one: Any one of four films could be #1 on this prime summer weekend and “Top Gun: Maverick” (Paramount) is the one to beat.

We don’t know how much the current films will fall and even less about the performance of opening titles “Elvis” (Warner Bros.) and “The Black Phone” (Universal), two non-franchise studio features.

“Maverick” was the #3 film last weekend ($44.7 million, off only 14 percent) and became even more impressive Monday when it rose to #2 over “Lightyear.” The long-running “Maverick” grossed 25 percent less than the #1 film, “Jurassic World: Dominion,” which dropped 60 percent last weekend. With the “Jurassic” sequel likely taking another substantial drop, “Maverick” could overtake it. “Lightyear” can’t expect to be more than third best among the three.

Tom Cruise plays Capt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell in Top Gun: Maverick from Paramount Pictures, Skydance and Jerry Bruckheimer Films.

“Top Gun: Maverick”

Paramount Pictures

Any drop less than one-third places “Maverick” at about $30 million. If “Dominion” falls 50 percent, it does $29 million. The previous “Jurassic” in 2018 fell 53 percent in weekend three, after dropping 59 percent in its second weekend (slightly less than the new one).

“Lightyear” would have to drop only 40 percent to reach $30 million. In 2018, “Toy Story 4” fell 50 percent in its second weekend, though it started from a much bigger opening and better critical response. For the newest Pixar film, $25 million or lower seems likely.

As for this weekend’s new titles, “Elvis” is the bigger question mark. Estimates range from $30 million to $50 million or more. Although Elvis Presley far outpaces major stars like Elton John (“Rocketman”) and Freddie Mercury (“Bohemian Rhapsody”) in all-time popularity, for today’s moviegoing audience he is a more remote and sometimes polarizing figure.

Elvis also has an intense older fan base, as does Luhrmann. Lead actor Austin Butler is familiar to younger audiences. The $85 million production got a boost from its Cannes premiere (even if “Top Gun: Maverick” took much of the oxygen). Reviews have been moderately favorable at best, but even the negative ones make it sound energetic and intriguing.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” exceeded all expectations from the start with a $52 million domestic opening, a $216 million total, and Rami Malek winning the Oscar for Best Actor. “Rocketman” with Taron Egerton opened to $26 million and a $96 million total. Much more than “Rhapsody,” it faced major competition with “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” and “Ma” opening the same day and “Aladdin” on week two.

An “Elvis” opening in a range between “Rocketman” and “Rhapsody” is likely. Assuming it needs strong older-audience support, the placement of “Elvis” trailers with “Maverick” over recent weeks could be its secret weapon.

The Black Phone

“The Black Phone”

Universal Pictures

Never bet against Blumhouse films, even on crowded dates. “The Black Phone” not only has the Blumhouse pedigree, but also the likely benefit of pent-up interest in horror films. This is the first theater-exclusive horror film from a major studio since “Scream” in January. For this genre, that’s a very long time between entries. “Phone” stars Ethan Hawke as a serial killer whose latest kidnapping victim figures out how to communicate with the outside.

It has critical support at the level of “Elvis,” although that’s above average for horror films. Predicting the appeal for a non-franchise original horror film, even with the Blumhouse brand, is always tricky. The consensus projection is around $20 million, slightly over the reported budget. It could fall anywhere between $15 million-$30 million — like “Elvis,” a wide range.

That leaves “The Black Phone” with only the most outside chance to reach #1. For both the horror movie and the music biopic, a mid-range opening could be good news for both films. (It could promise a long run for “Elvis,” and a return on investment for the low-budget “Black Phone.”) Another positive result: So many films competing for the top spot, all potentially over $20 million, would be stellar in its own right. Theaters need more than individual blockbusters; they need a strong bench.

That’s what makes this weekend so critical. More than any other week since theaters reopened, it has the potential to resemble the way business used to be.

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