Wolverine and an all-star band of mutants will launch a full-on assault on multiplexes this Memorial Day weekend, and though they may deliver one of the biggest comicbook movie openings of all time, the overall domestic box office will struggle to match or surpass last year’s record-breaking heights.
Still, “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” a time-bending adventure that brings together several generations and incarnations of superheroes, is shaping up to be a juggernaut when it debuts Stateside on Thursday night. For the four-day weekend, the film is on pace to earn north of $100 million and could even hit $110 million, according to pre-release tracking.
20th Century Fox, which is releasing the film, is being more conservative, putting the debut at $95 million-$100 million.
In 2013, “The Hangover Part III” and “Fast & Furious 6” collided at movie theaters, pushing the U.S. box office to an astounding $314.2 million over the four-day holiday. That was nearly $40 million higher than the previous Memorial Day ticket sales record set in 2011.
This year, analysts project that the overall marketplace will do more than $240 million in ticket sales, with new entrants such as “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and Warner Bros.’ “Blended” contributing roughly half of that number. If those projections hold, they will be in line with the five-year average for a holiday weekend that is considered to be the box office equivalent of the Super Bowl.
“Any time you set the bar as high as you did last year, comparisons are going to be tough,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak.
Those tough comparisons extend throughout the summer, Dergarabedian and other analysts say, noting that films such as “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” and “Transformers: Age of Extinction” may have a rough time matching the grosses of last year’s crop of blockbusters such as “Iron Man 3,” “Despicable Me 2″ and “Fast & Furious 6.” Through last weekend, the domestic box office was up 6% over last year, but that lead could shrink as the hot weather continues, and most box office watchers predict it will be difficult to match last summer’s record $4.75 billion bounty.
Regardless of where the overall market ends up, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is shaping up to be one of the summer’s biggest hits. The latest return to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters carries a production budget of $200 million. It will roll out in 3,987 theaters, the bulk of which will be 3D screens. More than 350 locations will offer large-screen formats (but not Imax, which will continue to show “Godzilla”).
Internationally, the film will debut day-and-date in more than 100 territories, which should result in a massive global haul.
Barring a late-breaking surge, the film will fall short of the $122.9 million, four-day debut of “X-Men: The Last Stand,” the franchise’s previous high-water mark, back in 2006. Yet, it will do better than the two previous mutant adventures, “The Wolverine” and “X-Men: First Class,”which opened to $53.1 million and $55.1 million respectively.
The film looks likely to capitalize on sterling reviews, with Rotten Tomatoes currently ranking it at 94 percent “fresh,” and the sequel will likely benefit from the presence of Hugh Jackman’s return to the X-Men fold after two solo adventures, as well as co-star Jennifer Lawrence’s higher, post-“Hunger Games” profile. The Oscar-winner plays a more central role this time around, no doubt a nod to her increased bankablity.
“The reviews have been great and we’re confident that everyone, X-fans and non-X-fans, will see this movie and really like it,” said Chris Aronson, president of domestic distribution at 20th Century Fox.
Moreover, any fallout from the sexual abuse allegations that swirled around Bryan Singer’s last month has been effectively contained. The X-Men sequel’s director took himself out of pre-release promotional activities, allowing 20th Century Fox to stay on-message.
“Blended,” which reunites the “50 First Dates” and “Wedding Singer” team of Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, is on pace to rack up roughly $30 million over the four-day period. Produced for $45 million, the film is being positioned to provide a kinder, gentler alternative to the armageddon and widespread property damage being doled out by “Godzilla” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”
“If you’re going to the theaters with a family, by default your option is ‘Blended,'” noted Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations.
“Blended” bows on 3,555 screens. The film will also debut in the U.K. and Germany, where Barrymore and Sandler recently hit Berlin to hawk the film. It will premiere next month in Australia and Russia, with the bulk of its foreign expansion occurring in July and beyond.
Last weekend’s box office heavyweight “Godzilla” won’t suffer the steep dropoff usually associated with tentpole films in their second week of release and may be the biggest factor preventing “X-Men: Days of Future Past” from hitting a franchise-best debut. The picture should gross just shy of $50 million over the four-day period, a 47% shave from last weekend’s $93 million opening. It will pass the $300 million mark worldwide when the weekend comes to a close. With a break-even point of $380 million, “Godzilla” is nearly assured profitability, setting the stage for sequels to come.
As for the other holdovers, family film “Million Dollar Arm” should hold steady at roughly $8 million, while “Neighbors” will fall to $19 million. With a fresh batch of costumed heroes shooting onto screens, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” will likely gross around $12 million in its fourth week of release.