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Box Office: ‘It’ Creeping to Massive $85 Million Weekend

New Line’s scarefest “It” is heading for a dominant opening weekend with $85 million at 4,103 North American sites, early estimates showed Friday.

That’s well above expectations, which had been around $65 to $75 million. “It” broke out on Thursday night with $13.5 million preview number — the third-largest for 2017, trailing only Disney’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and “Beauty and the Beast,” and the largest gross for a horror movie, an R-rated title, a September release and a film based on a Stephen King book.

The impact of Hurricane Irma will hold down moviegoing in the Southeast this weekend with the massive storm expected hit Florida and Georgia late Saturday. Irma could dent weekend attendance by as much as 5%.

Friday afternoon estimates for “It” ranged from the $82 million to nearly $100 million for the weekend, which should be the first in two months to wind up above the comparable 2016 frame. That follows a dismal late summer that’s driven down year-to-date moviegoing by 6.5% to $7.6 billion as of Sept. 6, according to comScore. The Sept. 11-13, 2016 frame was led by “Sully” opening at $35 million.

Open Road’s counter-programmer romantic comedy “Home Again,” starring Reese Witherspoon, was coming in a distant second at the lower end of expectations, which had ranged from $8 million to $10 million at 2,940 sites.

PostTrak data from comScore showed strong audience reaction to “It” previews, with 48% calling the movie “excellent” and another 38% rating it “very good.” The R-rated movie is based on King’s 1986 novel, which focuses on a group of friends in a fictional Maine community that battles the small town’s demon as kids.

Made for about $35 million, “It” stars Bill Skarsgard as the evil clown Pennywise who terrorizes children in Derry, Maine. The rest of the cast includes Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton, Jaeden Lieberher, and Jackson Robert Scott.

“It” has plenty of critical support with an 89% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Directed by Andy Muschietti, “It” will smash the record for largest September opening set by “Hotel Transylvania 2” in 2015 with $48.5 million, along with the mark for biggest opening weekend by a horror or supernatural film, held by 2011’s “Paranormal Activity 3” with $52.6 million. New Line is already working on the second part of the story with Gary Dauberman officially hired to script and Muschietti expected to return.

Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with comScore, said a strong September may be in the offing, noting that “American Assassin,” “Mother!,” “The Lego Ninjago Movie, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” and “American Made” will open in coming weeks. “They could start a much needed box office revival and turn the traditionally sleepy month into a momentum generating box office giant,” he added.

Lionsgate’s “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” which has won the last three weekends, will likely lead the rest of the pack in third with around $4 million. The action-comedy has generated $59 million in its first three weeks.

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