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Can ‘Finding Dory’ and Kevin Hart Save the Summer Box Office?

The summer box office is sinking fast. With ticket sales down more than 20%, and high-profile would-be blockbusters such as “Alice Through the Looking Glass” and “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” tanking  or falling short at the multiplexes, it’s enough to send studio executives clamoring for the lifeboats.

“It’s all cyclical,” said Shawn Robbins, senior analyst at BoxOffice.com. “Audiences are conserving their money. They’re looking at their options and thinking the slate’s not as good as in years past.”

But moviegoers may be willing to crack open their wallets when “Finding Dory” hits theaters this weekend. The sequel to “Finding Nemo” will easily top $100 million, and could be looking at a debut of more than $115 million from 4,305 North American theaters. That would establish a new opening record for a Disney/Pixar release, lapping “Toy Story 3’s” $110 million launch.

It’s an impressive feat, but then “Finding Dory” is benefiting from some impressive lineage. Released in 2003, “Finding Nemo,” the story of a fish separated from his father, went on to become the second highest-grossing film of the year, racking up a massive $936.7 million globally and nabbing an Oscar for best animated feature. The sequel reunites original director Andrew Stanton with stars Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres. Stanton’s co-director Angus MacLane is making his feature debut as a filmmaker.

The new adventure finds Dory, a fish who suffers from short-term memory loss, scouring the ocean in search of her long-lost parents. Disney did not provide a budget, but Pixar films typically carry price tags of between $175 million to $200 million. “Finding Dory” is enjoying some critical love, as well. The film has a 92% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, signalling that the reviews are almost universally positive.

“Finding Dory” will dominate ticket sales in a way that few other films have managed of late. However, it’s success won’t prevent the weekend’s other newcomer, “Central Intelligence,” from sticking the landing. The action-comedy is projected to open to $30 million, a healthy debut that demonstrates the enduring appeal of stars Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson. In the comedy realm, few actors have been as consistent draws as Hart, who can claim “The Wedding Ringer,” “Get Hard” and “Ride Along” among his hits. At the same time, Johnson has emerged as one of the most bankable action headliners, scoring with the likes of “San Andreas” and “Furious 7.” Both are indefatigable promoters, who are prized by studios for going anywhere and everywhere to talk up their new films.

Central Intelligence” is the story of a geek who grows up to be a crack CIA agent (Johnson). He enlists Hart, playing the former campus king, to help him on a mission. New Line will release the film domestically and Universal will handle its international roll out. The two studios co-financed the $50 million film.

Despite a rough few weeks, some analysts believe that “Finding Dory” could kick off a turnaround. Though the summer is nearing mid-point, there are still a number of promising films left to debut, including “Jason Bourne,” “Star Trek Beyond,” and “Independence Day: Resurgence.”

“The rest of the summer slate has their work cut out for them but as we all know, box office fortunes rise and fall like the stock market so we still have a lot of time to make up the shortfall,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore.

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