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‘Dark Phoenix’ Takes on ‘Secret Life of Pets 2’ in Summer Box Office Battle

The X-Men are hoping that even after “Avengers: Endgame” steamrolled the box office in April, comic-book fever is alive and well when “Dark Phoenix” opens this weekend. But some furry friends could prevent the band of mutant superheroes from claiming victory in North America.

Universal and Illumination’s “The Secret Life of Pets 2” and “Dark Phoenix” will be battling for the top spot on domestic box office charts, with each film expecting a debut around $50 million to $55 million. Even amid a crowded summer moviegoing market, some industry prognosticators anticipate that both titles have the potential to surpass $60 million in their inaugural weekends.

“Dark Phoenix,” the first X-Men installment and blockbuster-hopeful to be released by Disney since the studio’s completed merger with 20th Century Fox, is touching down in 3,700 theaters. Disney is more cautiously estimating a start between $40 million and $50 million. That would rank as one of the franchise’s lowest openings, in line with 2013’s “The Wolverine” ($53 million), 2000’s “X-Men” ($54 million) and 2011’s “X-Men: First Class” ($55 million). “Dark Phoenix,” the 12th installment in the Marvel-owned series, is a direct sequel to 2016’s “X-Men: Apocalypse.” That film bowed with $65 million and went on to earn $543 million in ticket sales worldwide.

With a hefty $200 million price tag, the superhero adventure will have to summon an eager audience across the globe to turn a profit. Reviews have not been kind (It has a 20% on Rotten Tomatoes). IndieWire’s David Ehrlich calls it “the only $200 million tentpole that has no evident reason to exist.” Owen Gleiberman, Variety’s chief film critic, offered one of the more positive takes, praising the performance of star Sophie Turner. He wrote, “Turner’s damaged conviction holds “Dark Phoenix” together, giving it a treacherous life force.” However, comic-book enthusiasts are rarely a group influenced by reviews, and a negative critical consensus didn’t stop “Venom” from crossing $855 million in global ticket sales last year.

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“Dark Phoenix” is the directorial debut of Simon Kinberg, the filmmaker best known for his work writing numerous “X-Men” installments, as well as “Mr. & Mrs. Smith,” “Sherlock Holmes” and “The Martian.” The seventh and final entry in the main “X-Men” series centers on Jean Grey (Turner) as she evolves into the all-powerful mutant known as Dark Phoenix. After a mission goes wrong, the X-Men must band together to face Phoenix’s full capabilities. The ensemble cast also includes James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, and Nicholas Hoult. “Dark Phoenix” opens day and date in all international territories, aside from Indonesia and Japan.

The Secret Life of Pets 2,” though expected to open below its predecessor, looks likely to top box office charts when it debuts in 4,440 screens across North America. The first “Pets” movie became a surprise hit, launching with a massive $104 million and ending its box office run with $875 million worldwide. It still holds the record for the biggest opening weekend ever for an original film. The animated follow-up, which cost $80 million to produce, continues to tackle the age-old question: What do our pets really do when nobody is home? The voice cast includes Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, Jenny Slate, and Patton Oswalt, who replaced Louis C.K. after the comedian was removed from the film following allegations of sexual harassment. “The Secret Life of Pets 2” began its international rollout in May, earning $31.6 million from nine foreign markets. It will continue expanding overseas throughout the summer, including China on July 5.

At the specialty box office, Amazon is releasing Mindy Kaling’s comedy “Late Night” in four venues in Los Angeles and New York. Written by Kaling and directed by Nisha Ganatra, “Late Night” follows a talk show host (Emma Thompson) who hires a diverse writer (Kaling) in an attempt to save her faltering show. The well-reviewed movie debuted at Sundance, where Amazon bought the U.S. distribution rights for $13 million, marking one of the festival’s biggest sales. 30West co-financed “Late Night” with FilmNation Entertainment.

Meanwhile, CBS Films’ documentary “Pavarotti” will launch on 19 screens in select venues across the country. Directed by Ron Howard, the non-fiction film centers on the career of famed opera tenor Luciano Pavarotti.

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