‘Kung Fu Panda 3’ Dominating U.S. Box Office, Aiming for $44 Million Weekend

Po the panda will rule the U.S. box office this weekend with “Kung Fu Panda 3” grossing four times as much as nearest rival “The Finest Hours,” early estimates showed Friday.

Kung Fu Panda 3,” which has been expected to dominate with at least $40 million at 3,955 theaters, is heading for a $13 million opening day — dwarfing a trio of Friday launches for Chris Pine’s “The Finest Hours” with $4 million at 3,143 sites, Marlon Wayans’ “Fifty Shades of Black” with $3.2 million at 2,075 locations and Natalie Portman’s “Jane Got a Gun” with a miniscule $300,000 at 1,210 screens.

“Kung Fu Panda 3,” distributed by Fox for DreamWorks Animation, appears likely to finish with $44 million, or close to 2011’s “Kung Fu Panda 2,” which opened with $47.7 million domestically on its way to $162.5 million. The 2008 original bowed to $60.2 million and ended its U.S. run with $215 million.

The cartoon is a tonic for the box office following a weekend that was clobbered by a massive snowstorm, which led to “The Revenant” winning with $16 million.

Critics have shown strong support for “Kung Fu Panda 3” with a 79% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes while “The Finest Hours” has 61%. Disney’s sea-rescue adventure  looks likely to lead the rest of the pack with a quiet $11 million at 3,143 sites, in line with forecasts.

“The Finest Hours,” which recreates a daring 1952 Coast Guard rescue mission off the New England coast, appears to be something of a costly disappointment for Disney following its otherworldly success with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” “Hours” carries a reported $70 million price tag and appears aimed at the older male demographic.

The action-adventure, also starring Casey Affleck and Eric Bana, generated a modest $375,000 in Thursday night previews. That topped two other recent Disney entries — “McFarland,” which opened with $260,000 on its way to an $11 million opening weekend, and “Million Dollar Arm,” which scored $250,000 in previews and launched with $10.5 million.

Open Road’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” spoof “Fifty Shades of Black” isn’t performing as well but carries a cost of only $5 million, which was financed by IM Global. It’s heading for a weekend in the $8 million to $9 million range — which will likely leave it in fifth place behind “The Revenant” and “The Force Awakens.”

Leonardo DiCaprio’s “The Revenant” is heading for a $10 million weekend at 3,330 sites for a 40% decline in the wake of securing a leading 12 Oscar nominations on Jan. 14. The survival epic is heading into the weekend with about $125 million domestically.

As for the seventh Star Wars movie, its seventh weekend should see a decline of about 37% to $9 million at 2,556 sites. “The Force Awakens” set a record on Jan. 6 for top domestic grosser of all time when it passed “Avatar,” and has taken $125 million since then to hit $884 million domestically heading into the weekend.

The Weinstein Company is handling the release of the much-delayed “Jane Got a Gun,” which is heading for a lackluster launch weekend of under $900,000. “Jane,” which stars Portman, Joel Edgerton, Noah Emmerich and Ewan McGregor, was shot in 2013 in New Mexico, with Gavin O’Connor directing after Lynne Ramsay left the production after one day.

The release of “Jane” was delayed several times by Relativity before TWC bought distribution rights last July.

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