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Box Office: ‘Kung Fu Panda 3’ Dominates ‘Caesar,’ ‘Zombies,’ ‘Choice’

Po the Panda will rule the U.S. box office again with Fox’s “Kung Fu Panda 3” nabbing at least $20 million at 3,955 theaters this weekend, early estimates showed Friday.

The animated comedy will leave a trio of new entries in the dust during a typically subdued Super Bowl weekend, led by Universal’s George Clooney comedy “Hail, Caesar!” with $9.5 million at 2,231 sites. The Coen Brothers’ look at 1950s Hollywood commanded a moderate $3.5 million on Friday, including $543,000 in Thursday night previews.

Sony’s horror-drama spoof “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” was headed for $9 million at 2,930 sites with a $3 million opening day on Friday. The movie is based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s parody of  Jane Austen’s iconic 1813 novel.

Only a modest number of moviegoers were choosing “The Choice,” which opened Friday with about $2.5 million at 2,631 sites on its way to a $6.5 million weekend for Lionsgate’s romancer.

Fox’s seventh weekend of “The Revenant” and Disney’s eighth weekend of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” will probably be in the mix in the battle for second place. “The Revenant” is heading into the weekend with $142 million domestically and Disney’s already announced that the seventh Star Wars will cross the $900 million domestic mark on Friday.

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Studios have tended to avoid the Super Bowl weekend. The record holder is the 2008 opening of Disney’s concert film “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds” with $31.1 million, followed by Sony’s 2010 drama “Dear John” with $30.5 million and Fox’s 2009 launch of “Taken” with $24.7 million. Warner Bros.’ sixth weekend of “American Sniper” led last year’s Super Bowl box office with $30.7 million.

“Hard and fast rules don’t apply to movies that were presented as perfect counter-programming to the SuperBowl,” noted Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with comScore. “The SuperBowl itself provides a chance for Hollywood to give up some short-term box office pain for long-term gain with studios jumping at the chance to have trailers for some of their biggest upcoming blockbusters presented to a massive television audience during the game.”

Fox’s second weekend of DreamWorks Animation’s “Kung Fu Panda 3” took in $48 million in its first week and should finish the frame at around $70 million in its first 10 days.

“Hail, Caesar!,” Clooney’s fourth movie with the Coen brothers, has received strong critical support with a 78% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Universal financed the $22 million project.

The Coens’ best performer by far has been 2010’s “True Grit,” which opened with $24 million on its way to a $171 million domestic total. Their next best launch was 2008’s “Burn After Reading,” which launched with $19 million on its way to $60 million.

The brothers’ best picture Oscar winner “No Country for Old Men” took in a total of $74 million for Miramax in 2007-08.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” is a $28 million production financed by Cross Creek Pictures and is being distributed by Sony Pictures’ Screen Gems label. Lily James portrays Elizabeth Bennet battling lass prejudice and the undead.

The Choice” is the 11th movie based on a romance novel from Nicolas Sparks. It was acquired by Lionsgate for under $10 million and centers on two neighbors whose love affair is derailed by tragedy.

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