Meanwhile, The Conjuring fell 57 percent to an estimated $7.4 million. That's a fantastic hold for a horror movie, and guarantees that the movie will ultimately close with over $100 million. Fruitvale Station expanded to 1,064 locations and earned $1.45 million, which puts it on pace for a $5 million weekend. The Way, Way Back also had a solid expansion ($970,000 from 886 theaters), while The To-Do List disappointed with $590,000 from 591 theaters.
Friday AM Update: The Wolverine earned $4 million from late Thursday shows beginning at 10 p.m. That's a bit higher than World War Z and Pacific Rim, which both grossed $3.6 million from shows starting at 7 p.m. Among recent X-Men movies, it was in between X-Men: First Class ($3.37 million) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine ($5 million).
The X-Men comparison suggests that The Wolverine will wind up somewhere between $60 and $70 million for the weekend; however, if it played out like Pacific Rim, it would finish just above $40 million for the weekend.
Forecast: This weekend's only brand-new nationwide release is The Wolverine, which features Hugh Jackman once again reprising his star-making role as the titular immortal hero. Playing at 3,924 locations (3,063 of which will show it in 3D), the sixth X-Men movie should open to at least $60 million, which will easily be good for first place.
Meanwhile, The To-Do List opens in moderate release, while Sundance hits Fruitvale Station and The Way, Way Back expand nationwide. Finally, Woody Allen's latest, Blue Jasmine, opens in six theaters ahead of a likely nationwide expansion in August.
While the X-Men franchise has never reached top-tier comic book levels (Spider-Man, Iron Man, The Dark Knight, etc.), it has generally performed well at the box office. The high point so far is X-Men: The Last Stand, which concluded the original trilogy by earning $234.4 million in 2006.
The Wolverine isn't the first attempt at a stand-alone movie for the X-Men's most popular character: that honor belongs to 2009 prequel X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Despite a nearly complete version of the movie leaking online a month early, it still wound up opening to a strong $85.1 million on the first weekend of Summer 2009. Unfortunately, it was generally disliked (38 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, 6.7 on IMDb) and dropped off quickly before closing with $179.9 million.
Typically, when audiences aren't thrilled with a movie, they turn out in smaller numbers for its sequel. While that will likely be the case on The Wolverine's opening weekend, a handful of factors should mitigate that a bit. First, consumers have warmed up again towards the X-Men brand following 2011's well-received X-Men: First Class; there's also already a lot of excitement surrounding next Summer's X-Men: Days of Future Past.
It's also possible that the Wolverine character is so popular that one awful outing doesn't entirely sour audience. This could be referred to as the "James Bond" effect—Quantum of Solace was widely maligned, but Daniel Craig's incarnation of the legendary character was so well-liked that four years later Skyfall still set a new record for the franchise. While Wolverine doesn't have quite the same pop culture cache as James Bond, it is pretty clear that Jackman's version of the character is popular-enough to recover from one poor outing.
Fox has also executed a solid marketing campaign for The Wolverine. Previews suggest that the movie takes place after The Last Stand—always a positive to move the story forward—and clearly present Wolverine's struggles with his immortality. They also showcase the unique Japanese setting and the action that goes along with that, while hinting at a major showdown between Wolverine and the formidable Silver Samurai. Finally, the marketing has attempted to get audiences to forget about X-Men Origins: Wolverine by including a critic quote on most commercials that declares that this is the Wolverine movie people have been waiting for. And that might be true: the movie is currently at 65 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, which is a noticeable improvement over Origins (38 percent).
It also helps that The Wolverine faces next-to-no competition. It's been a full five weeks since a live-action movie opened over $45 million (World War Z), and during that time a handful of would-be blockbusters have faltered. The Summer isn't over yet, and The Wolverine is well-positioned to fill the pent-up demand for big-budget spectacle.
Currently, distributor 20th Century Fox is expecting between $60 and $65 million for the weekend. Online ticket seller Fandango suggests the movie could open even higher; through the same point, The Wolverine is outselling X-Men: First Class by 39 percent, which would translate to a weekend around $75 million.
The Wolverine is also opening in around 60 foreign locations this weekend, including all major markets except Japan and China. With the addition of 3D and the international setting, it's likely that the movie tops X-Men Origins: Wolverine's $193 million total.
The To-Do List is opening at 591 locations this weekend, which is just below the threshold to be considered nationwide (over 600). The movie has an appealing cast made up of television personalities like Aubrey Plaza and Bill Hader, and has received decent reviews (as of Thursday afternoon, it was barely fresh on Rotten Tomatoes). CBS Films is expecting around $2 million this weekend, which would keep the movie outside of the Top 12. If it opens around that level, it will likely expand past that nationwide threshold in the next few weeks.
After earning $1.6 million in two weeks of limited release, Fruitvale Station is expanding in to 1,064 locations this weekend. That's a very aggressive move for a movie that's getting great reviews and strong word-of-mouth—typically, a studio would attempt to platform for another week or two before going big. Still, there's enough momentum behind it that Fruitvale Station should earn at least $3 million this weekend.
The Way, Way Back is reaching 886 locations this weekend. Through less than three weeks in limited release, the coming-of-age comedy has grossed $5.4 million; with good word-of-mouth and a decent marketing push, it could crack the Top 10 this weekend with around $4 million.
Writer-director Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine opens at six locations in New York and Los Angeles this weekend. Allen's movies always start strong, and this should be no exception: with very good reviews, expect it to at least match last year's To Rome with Love's opening theater average ($72,272).
Forecast (July 26-28)
The Wolverine - $72.5 million
The Conjuring - $20.7 million (-51%)
Despicable Me 2 - $14.7 million (-41%)
Turbo - $11.7 million (-45%)
Grown Ups 2 - $11 million (-45%)
Bar for Success
At a minimum, The Wolverine should be matching X-Men: First Class's attendance figures. With a slight boost for 3D ticket pricing, that translates to at least $60 million this weekend. Meanwhile, The To-Do List needs $2 million this weekend, while The Way, Way Back and Fruitvale Station really ought to be hitting $3 million in their nationwide expansions.
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• Last Weekend's Report: 'Conjuring' Haunts First with Record Opening
• Summer 2013 Forecast
• 2013 Preview