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Box Office: ‘Secret Life of Pets 2’ Ekes Out No. 1 Spot as ‘Dark Phoenix’ Sputters

The North American box office fizzled this weekend as Universal and Illumination’s “The Secret Life of Pets 2” and Disney and Fox’s “X-Men” installment “Dark Phoenix” battled it out at theaters. Neither packed much of a punch, with both films debuting well below expectations.

“The Secret Life of Pets 2” nabbed first place with $47.11 million, less than half of what its predecessor earned during its inaugural weekend in theaters. Even with an underwhelming start, the animated animal sequel was able to claim victory over “Dark Phoenix,” the final entry in the “X-Men” series and first to be released by Disney. “Dark Phoenix” misfired with a disappointing $33 million, marking the worst debut in the franchise’s 20-year history.

With a huge $200 million price tag, “Dark Phoenix” presents a much tougher path to profitability compared to “Secret Life of Pets 2,” which cost the studio $80 million to produce. It didn’t help that “Dark Phoenix” was panned by critics, who branded it with a 22% on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences weren’t too high on the last “X-Men” chapter either. It has a mediocre B- CinemaScore.

“We wanted to see a stronger performance,” said Cathleen Taff, Disney’s president of global distribution. “It’s a competitive landscape as always in the summer, but we think the dedicated fans will find and appreciate the movie, especially as it comes to the conclusion.”

Prior to this film, 2013’s “The Wolverine” ranked as the lowest opening for an “X-Men” film with $53 million. “Dark Phoenix” is a sequel to 2016’s “X-Men: Apocalypse,” which bowed with $65 million and went on to earn $543 million in ticket sales worldwide.

“Dark Phoenix” had a stronger start overseas, where it raked in $107 million. Directed by Simon Kinberg, “Dark Phoenix” stars Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, and Nicholas Hoult.

“The Secret Life of Pets 2” wasn’t expected to match the opening weekend box office receipts of the original film, but even the sequel’s global start of $97 million was less than the huge $104 million domestic debut of “The Secret Life of Pets.” The animated movie, which again provides insight as to what our pets do when nobody is home, features the voices of Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, Jenny Slate, and Patton Oswalt, who replaced Louis C.K. after the comedian was removed from the film following sexual harassment allegations.

“The Secret Life of Pets 2” is the 10th collaboration between Universal and Illumination, the animated studio behind franchises like “Despicable Me” and “The Grinch.” “The Secret Life of Pets 2” lands just above 2011’s “Hop” ($37 million) and 2016’s “Sing” ($35 million) as one of the slower starts for an Illumination film. Both of those titles went on to have long runs in multiplexes. However, “Pets 2” faces a competitive landscape with Disney’s “Toy Story 4” hitting theaters in two weeks.

Universal’s distribution chief Jim Orr praised Illumination and its founder Chris Meledandri for another chart-topping opening weekend.

“We are extraordinarily proud to collaborate with Chris Meledandri as they celebrate this ninth No. 1 opening,” Orr said. ” It was an amazing voice cast they put together. It’s good to be in front of what appears to be a crowded marketplace.”

Disney’s “Aladdin” landed in third place on box office charts with $24 million, pushing its domestic grosses to $232 million. In fourth, Warner Bros. and Legendary’s “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” saw a steep decline in ticket sales. The monster sequel collected $15.4 million, representing a drastic 68% drop from its first weekend in theaters. “King of the Monsters” has generated $78 million in North America to date.

Rounding out the top five is Paramount’s “Rocketman.” The biopic on the life and times of Sir Elton John drummed up another $13 million, bringing its Stateside haul to $50 million.

At the specialty box office, Mindy Kaling’s “Late Night” got off to a solid start. The Amazon Studios’ comedy, starring Kaling and Emma Thompson, earned $249,654 when it opened in four venues, averaging $62,414 per theater.

Bob Berney, Amazon Studios’ distribution chief, said opting for a smaller release, rather than opening the movie nationwide as initially intended, felt like a smart movie amid a crowded summer slate.

“There is an audience that is wanting something else, and I think word of mouth will help with its expansion,” he said. “”It shows there’s an audience for comedies and dramas if you have the goods.”

Berney also commended Kaling for putting in the work to promote her film on social media and by attending numerous screenings.

“It’s made a difference to make it personal,” he added.”

CBS Films’ “Pavarotti,” a documentary about the beloved opera tenor directed by Ron Howard, generated $142,500 from 19 screens, translating to a $7,500 per-theater average. It will continue expanding over the coming weeks.

As the summer moviegoing season heats up, ticket sales are still sluggish compared to 2018’s record-breaking year. Box office receipts are pacing just under 6% behind last year, according to Comscore. Some blockbuster-hopefuls like “Toy Story 4” and “Spider-Man: Far From Home” are hoping to close that gap.

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