Weekend Preview: 'Kung Fu Panda 3' To Top 'Fifty Shades of Black' and 'Finest Hours'

by Brad Brevet

January 28, 2016

Saturday Update: Friday estimates are in and Kung Fu Panda 3 is off to a soft start with an estimated $10.5 million to go along with an "A" CinemaScore. Rival studios are predicting a three-day weekend anywhere from $37.6-41 million, well below Mojo predictions, but within the industry expected range. For the sake of comparison, the original Hotel Transylvania kicked off its opening with $10.9 million and went on to bring in $42.5 million for its opening while Over the Hedge started its Friday off in 2006 with $10.7 million and finished the weekend with $38.4 million. The average opening weekend for a PG-rated animated film opening in the $9.5-11.5 million range is $37.2 million.

The Finest Hours brought in an estimated $3.3 million along with an "A-" CinemaScore and is targeting an opening weekend just under $10 million. Meanwhile Fifty Shades of Black is landing with a bit of a thud, kicking things off on Friday with an estimated $2.2 million and a "C" CinemaScore. Estimates expect the three-day to land somewhere around $5.5-6 million.

Friday Update: The Finest Hours brought in $375,000 from Thursday night previews. Recent comparisons include Project Almanac and The Transporter Refueled, both of which also brought in $375k on Thursday night and opened with $8.3 million and $7.3 million respectively. The studio is drawing comparisons to McFarland, USA and Million Dollar Arm which brought in $260,000 and $250,000 from Thursday previews respectively, and managed to finish the three-day with $11 million and $10.5 million in their opening weekends.

Additionally, Fifty Shades of Black brought in $275,000 from Thursday screenings while neither Kung Fu Panda 3 nor Jane Got a Gun held Thursday screenings.

Weekend Preview: Kung Fu Panda 3 enters a marketplace where the largest January opening for an animated feature is currently 2014's The Nut Job with $19.4 million. You can count on Po the Panda squashing that number with ease. Additional new releases looking to find a place on the chart this weekend include the 1950s-set disaster thriller The Finest Hours, the R-rated spoof feature Fifty Shades of Black and Jane Got a Gun. Question is, while Po and the Furious Five are taking the top spot will these other new releases be able to top last weekend's top two films? Last weekend's box office took a hit thanks to the East Coast snowstorm and films such as The Revenant and Star Wars may be looking to make up some ground.

Starting with number one, and working in the favor of Kung Fu Panda 3 is the fact the last really strong animated release was Hotel Transylvania 2 in September of last year. Since then, The Good Dinosaur and The Peanuts Movie both broke $100 million domestically, but didn't make any kind of significant impact and Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip continued that franchise's slide upon its release in December. Also, the online ticketing company Fandango reports Kung Fu Panda 3 is outpacing DreamWorks Animation's Home, which opened in March of 2015 with $52.1 million.

The first Panda film opened with $60.2 million in June of 2008, and the sequel brought in $47.6 million in May of 2011. The drop from the first film is significant considering the sequel was released in 3-D while the first film was not, but the franchise hasn't necessarily slowed or grown stagnant. While the January release date for this third film comes five years after the last installment, the "Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness" television series kept the franchise alive through 2014. Added to that, the highest grossing family film last weekend was the lackluster Norm of the North, which leaves the potential for a strong performing family film available for the taking.

Conservative early estimates pegged the film coming in somewhere around $35-45 million, most likely thanks to the fact the sequel performed below the first film, but those numbers seem light. A comparison to Home's opening seems apt as does the $55.3 million opening for The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, which brought in $55.3 million in the first weekend of February last year, and even the $69 million opening for The LEGO Movie a year earlier shows the potential for this time of year. With the film opening in 3,955 theaters, a $48-53 million opening seems very doable with the potential to breakout even further. Anything over $41.5 million will be enough for the second best January opening of all-time.

Internationally, Kung Fu Panda 3 had preview screenings in China last Saturday and brought in an impressive $6.4 million in one day. The film opens day and date in China this weekend as well as in South Korea, Russia, Ukraine, Jamaica and Puerto Rico.

Fifty Shades of Black is next among the week's new releases and it's a tough call as to where this might finish as even industry expectations are looking at a wide margin of error, ranging from $6-12 million for the weekend. Working in its favor is the fact A Haunted House, another R-rated, Marlon Wayans-led spoof feature, opened with $18.1 million in January 2013. It's sequel, however, opened in April 2014 with $8.8 million. Beyond that, for the next highest performing R-rated spoof feature we have to go back to 2010's MacGruber, which opened with a paltry $4 million. Question is, just how much weight does the Wayans name, spoofing one of 2015's highest grossing films, carry?

Just under a year ago Fifty Shades of Grey popped with a record-breaking $85.1 million February opening. One could say A Haunted House arrived late compared to the found footage horror genre it was spoofing while Fifty Shades of Black seems as if it could be perfectly timed. Wayans has been working hard to promote the film everywhere from ESPN's "Sports Center" and Comedy Central's "The Daily Show", it will be interesting to see if it pays off.

Next is The Finest Hours, which comes with a fine cast but appears to be lost at sea. Releasing in 3,143 theaters this weekend the film is looking to disappoint, despite the fact over 85% of those theaters are showing the film in 3-D along with 190 IMAX screens, 50+ Premium Large Format screens and roughly 80 D-Box locations. On the heels of the disappointing $11 million weekend for December's In the Heart of the Sea, audiences don't seem particularly interested in period-set disaster features set at sea. The highest of expectations are for a $10 million opening.

Finally we come to The Weinstein Co.'s release of Jane Got a Gun, whose troubled production is well-documented. Things truly went haywire when director Lynne Ramsay didn't show up for the first day of shooting. Her departure was followed by a revolving door when it came to the cast and the bankruptcy of Relativity ultimately landed the film at The Weinstein Co. Gavin O'Connor (Warrior) eventually stepped in to direct the film which stars (and was produced by) Natalie Portman along with Joel Edgerton, Ewan McGregor and Rodrigo Santoro. Weinstein originally estimated it would only be arriving in 550 theaters, but that count rose to 1,210 theaters today making it a little more possible it could find a spot in the top ten, but it has a tough road ahead of it.

Not only did it have a troubled production, but the marketing campaign appears to be almost non-existent. A target figure for the weekend would seem to be $3 million, but the fact this is a Western with little juice behind it doesn't seem to be working in its favor. On the plus side, Little Boy did manage $2.7 million from 1,045 theaters last year and upon their wide releases, Ex Machina brought in $5.3 million from 1,255 theaters and It Follows made $3.8 million from 1,218 theaters, but both of those films were enjoying far more positive buzz than Jane has ever received.

Just as interesting as the weekend's new releases will be last weekend's top two films. The East Coast snowstorm had a significant impact last weekend, which could bode well for both The Revenant and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Both are losing theaters with Star Wars taking its biggest hit yet, losing 809 theaters, down to 2,556 overall, but both stand to make somewhere in the $9-12 million range this weekend, each likely to drop 32% or less. This could put both titles ahead of Fifty Shades of Black and The Finest Hours for the weekend if pessimistic expectations for the two new releases hold up.

Also of note this weekend is the release of the 2016 Oscar Nominated Short Films into 125 theaters. This is seven more theaters than the shorts opened in last year when they brought in $416,850 during the opening weekend before going on to make over $2.4 million over the course of seven weeks. Look for similar results this weekend, or perhaps a touch higher.

All of this weekend's predictions are listed below and we'll have Friday estimates for you on Saturday morning and a weekend wrap-up on Sunday.

  • Kung Fu Panda 3 (3,955 theaters) - $52.4 M
  • The Revenant (3,330 theaters) - $10.89 M
  • Fifty Shades of Black (2,075 theaters) - $10.38 M
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2,556 theaters) - $9.86 M
  • The Finest Hours (3,143 theaters) - $8.96 M
  • Dirty Grandpa (2,912 theaters) - $6.67 M
  • Ride Along 2 (2,410 theaters) - $6.23 M
  • The 5th Wave (2,908 theaters) - $5.37 M
  • 13 Hours (2,803 theaters) - $5.15 M
  • The Boy (2,671 theaters) - $5.07 M

Discuss this story with fellow Box Office Mojo fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @boxofficemojo and author Brad Brevet at @bradbrevet.

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