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Box Office: ‘The Huntsman: Winter’s War’ No Match for ‘The Jungle Book’

Not even a magic mirror could have predicted that Disney’s “The Jungle Book” would be this big a hit.

So forgive Universal if the studio thought it had lucked into the perfect strategy, unveiling “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” in the spring when it faced less competition from summer blockbusters. The only problem is that “The Jungle Book” is behaving like one of those universe-shaking popcorn season smashes. The live-action version of the Rudyard Kipling stories now has a very realistic shot of hitting $1 billion globally, and, buoyed by critical raves and strong word-of-mouth, may steamroll everything in its path.

Tracking suggests that “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” will debut in the mid-$20 million range. It will have to fight for every dollar because “The Jungle Book” isn’t just drawing in young families, it’s appealing to older audiences, as well.

“I’m worried about ‘Huntsman’ under-performing,” said Shawn Robbins, senior analyst with BoxOffice.com. “It doesn’t seem to be clicking on social media or review-wise. That’s not the best of signs when you’re facing a behemoth like a Disney title.”

“The Jungle Book” is expected to show some impressive endurance, dropping roughly 50% from its $103.3 million opening to pull in a little more than $50 million in its second weekend. It’s not the only holdover with some pop. Entering its sophomore weekend, New Line and MGM’s “Barbershop: The Next Cut” should have a similar drop off to “The Jungle Book,” dipping to $12 million from its $20.2 million launch.

“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” is a prequel to 2012’s “Snow White and the Huntsman.” It brings back Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron and adds Jessica Chastain and Emily Blunt into the mix. Kristen Stewart, who starred as Snow White in the first film, did not return — she brought tabloid notoriety to that picture and engendered the fury of “Twilight” fans after she was caught in an affair with married director, Rupert Sanders, while she was in a relationship with Robert Pattinson. Sanders was replaced on “The Huntsman” sequel by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, the first film’s visual-effects supervisor.

The story of battling rival queens cost $115 million to produce, and Universal is hoping that the band of A-list actresses will help it appeal to females. The first “Huntsman” made nearly $400 million globally and debuted to $56.2 million domestically — figures the prequel seems unlikely to match. Globally, “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” has already opened in 25 markets, racking up $45 million and change. It debuts this weekend in 36 additional foreign territories, including such major markets as China, France and Brazil.

In limited release, Bleecker Street will debut the Kevin Spacey and Michael Shannon comedy “Elvis & Nixon” and Lionsgate is fielding the Mexican-American action comedy “Compadres.”

It’s a very good time to be Disney. Not only is the studio putting up big numbers with “The Jungle Book” and this spring’s “Zootopia,” it opens “Captain America: Civil War” in two weeks. The superhero sequel is expected to debut to more than $175 million, one of the biggest first weekends in history.

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