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Box Office: ‘Split’ to Battle Vin Diesel’s ‘Xander Cage’ for Top Spot

M. Night Shyamalan’s horror-thriller “Split” and Vin Diesel’s “xXx: Return of Xander Cage” are poised to fight for the North American box office crown with about $20 million each this coming weekend.

Fox’s historical drama “Hidden Figures,” which has won the past two weekends, is likely to remain a solid contender in the $15 million to $18 million range.

Universal is launching “Split,” starring James McAvoy as a man with 24 personalities, at approximately 3,015 North American venues. Shyamalan produces and directs from his own script.

“Split” has been building buzz among its core fans since its debut screening at September’s Fantastic Fest in Austin, followed by an official screening at November’s AFI Festival in Los Angeles and 24 word-of-mouth screenings on Friday the 13th last week, mirroring the 24 personalities of McAvoy’s character. Critics seem to be embracing “Split,” which so carries an 75% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Shyamalan is self-financing the project, which costs less than $10 million. He re-teamed with horror specialist Jason Blum and his Blumhouse Productions, two years after they collaborated on the found-footage horror movie “The Visit,” which grossed nearly $100 million worldwide on a $5 million budget.

Universal is distributing “Split” worldwide and going day-and-date with North America in 21 territories, including the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Singapore, and the U.K. with additional markets rolling out over the next few months.

Paramount is releasing “xXx: Return of Xander Cage” at about 3,600 sites. Diesel is reprising his character from “Return of Xander Cage” — a government operative who debuted in the 2002 movie “xXx” without returning for 2005’s “xXx: State of the Union.” The film also stars Samuel L. Jackson, Donnie Yen (“Rogue One”), Deepika Padukone, Ruby Rose, Kris Wu, and Nina Dobrev.

D.J. Caruso directs from a script by F. Scott Frazier, which centers on Diesel’s deadpan character coming out of self-imposed exile in a race to recover a sinister and seemingly unstoppable weapon known as Pandora’s Box. Xander Cage finds himself enmeshed in a deadly conspiracy that points to collusion at the highest levels of world governments — while he and castmates toss out witty banter while performing what are touted as never-seen-before stunts.

The $85 million project has received backing from Chinese companies Huahua Media and Shanghai Film Group. It’s the first production in a decade from Revolution Studios, which was recently sold to Content Partners.

“Return of Xander Cage” also opens in 53 international markets (representing 54% of the ultimate international footprint), including U.K., France, Spain, Germany, Australia, Mexico, Brazil, Russia, and India — where it earned an impressive $4.2 million in previews. China will open the film on Feb. 10.

“Xander Cage” producers are Joe Roth, Jeff Kirschenbaum, Diesel, and Samantha Vincent.

Hidden Figures,” which has already taken in a surprisingly strong $62 million after two weekends in wide release, will probably lead a pack of holdovers that includes awards season contender “La La Land,” the sixth weekend of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” Illumination-Universal’s fifth weekend of “Sing,” and Lionsgate’s “Partriots Day.” “Rogue One” topped the $500 million domestic mark on Monday.

Online ticket seller Fandango reported Wednesday that “Split” was its top seller for the upcoming weekend, followed by “Xander Cage” and “Hidden Figures.”

The Weinstein Company is also opening the biopic “The Founder” at about 1,000 locations, but tracking is not showing much interest among moviegoers, with early estimates of under $5 million. TWC had hoped that the Michael Keaton vehicle, recreating the early days of the McDonald’s chain, would be an awards-season contender, but the film isn’t expected to be a factor.

Keaton portrays McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc. Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch co-star as McDonald’s founders Richard and Maurice McDonald.

BH Tilt is also releasing the faith-based title “The Resurrection of Gavin Stone” in around 1,000 locations with hopes for a $3 million launch. The sites were selected because they are historically frequented by faith-based audiences.

“Gavin Stone” is an inspirational comedy in which a washed-up former child star is forced to do community service at a local mega-church and pretends to be Christian so he can land the part of Jesus in the annual Passion Play. Brett Dalton, Anjelah Johnson-Reyes, Shawn Michaels, D.B. Sweeney, and Neil Flynn star.

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