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Box Office: ‘Fifty Shades Darker’ No Match for ‘The Lego Batman Movie’

Break out the whips, the dead dog, and the batarang. “Fifty Shades Darker,” a deeper dive into the world of BDSM and “Twilight” fan fiction; “John Wick: Chapter 2,” a violent exploration about the lengths man will go to avenge pooch; and “The Lego Batman Movie,” the cinematic union of a Danish toymaker and a comic book brand, will all be flooding theaters this weekend. Each film is aimed at distinctly different audiences, offering up something for every age group and gender. The three new releases should turbocharge a sleepy box office.

“This is shaping up to be a big weekend — probably the biggest one of the year so far,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “All the studios are trying to get a jump on Valentine’s Day and President’s Day.”

Tracking suggests that “The Lego Batman Movie” will top charts for the weekend, picking up more than $60 million. The film is a spinoff to the 2014 smash, “The Lego Movie,” and is part of a larger push by Warner Bros. to build up its animation division. “The Lego Batman Movie” cost $80 million to make, a relatively economical sum for an animated film at a time when Pixar movies routinely clock in at north of $200 million. “The Lego Batman Movie” follows the caped crusader as he tries to save Gotham City from the Joker. It features the voices of Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, and Ralph Fiennes, and has gotten the kind of reviews that “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” would murder for — Rotten Tomatoes currently has the film at 98 percent “fresh.” Warner Bros. will push this film out in more than 3,400 locations, and in Imax, RealD, and every other conceivable format.

Some outlets have pointed to the softer tracking for “Fifty Shades Darker” as a sign that the spark has gone out on the romantic drama. The Universal release is eyeing a debut of $40 million, roughly half of what its predecessor “Fifty Shades of Grey” brought in during its opening weekend in 2014. Some of that discrepancy may be attributable to the lack of novelty surrounding billionaire businessmen with a taste for kink (we do live in a post-Russian dossier/golden showers world, after all). But there are also valid reasons why it’s not a hot candle wax-to-hot candle wax comparison. “Fifty Shades of Grey” opened on a holiday weekend, a period that coincided with Valentine’s Day. This year, the annual tribute to love and Hallmark doesn’t occur until next Tuesday, limiting the potential for “Fifty Shades Darker” to become a saucy date night movie. Universal didn’t release a budget for the film, but word is it cost $55 million to make. “Fifty Shades Darker” will be in 3,705 North American locations, although there’s no word yet on whether or not those will include 4DX locations.

That leaves Lionsgate’s “John Wick: Chapter 2” vying for third place. The action thriller is expected to open to just shy of $20 million when it opens in around 3000 locations. Keanu Reeves returns as the title character, a hitman who is adept at finding creative ways to kill people. For PETA’s sake, we hope there’s a lower puppy death count. The first “John Wick” was something of a cult hit, earning $86 million globally. Lionsgate is distributing the film, and, like Universal, declined to give a budget. The first film reportedly cost $20 million to produce, and sequels usually carry higher price tags. Budgets are something of a moving target with studios, who take a magical realist approach to financial accounting. Tax breaks have a habit of fortuitously appearing right when it’s time to report box office results, and executives have a penchant for rhapsodizing about how foreign pre-sales limit their company’s financial exposure to the point where a huge flop doesn’t even register as a blip on the balance sheet. It’s funny because those same rhetorical devices don’t make an appearance when a movie is a big success. Still, it’s alarming that some Hollywood studios have now decided to get out of the business of even bothering to offer up alternative facts. In an industry that thrives on obfuscation, they’d rather not say anything at all.

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