The domestic box office may be off to a sluggish start this year, but two genres have proven to be consistent winners: superheroes and horror.
If that trend continues, movie theaters in North America might get a much-needed boost this weekend as Warner Bros.’ comic-book adventure “Shazam!” and Paramount Pictures’ remake of “Pet Sematary” open nationwide. The two titles are debuting alongside STX’s drama “The Best of Enemies.”
“Shazam!” looks to be the big winner among newcomers. It’s expected to make between $45 million and $50 million when it debuts in 4,260 North American venues. Early tracking suggested the comic-book adaptation could launch with $40 million, but positive word-of-mouth has industry analysts more optimistic about one of DC’s youngest warriors.
“Shazam!” — described as “Big” set in the comic-book world — centers on Billy Batson (Asher Angel), a teenager who transforms into a bubble-gum-snapping superhero (Zachary Levi) when someone says the magic word. Critics have praised the tentpole for taking itself a little less seriously than its superhero brethren. Variety’s Owen Gleiberman wrote, “The movie says: You’ve got to giggle at this stuff. That’s part of the adventure.”
If “Shazam!” becomes a hit, it’ll be the third success story in a row for DC Entertainment as the studio attempts to fashion an alternative to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Warner Bros. spent $80 million to produce “Shazam!,” roughly half of what it spent to make “Aquaman” and “Wonder Woman.” For that reason, “Shazam!” doesn’t need to pull off the same kind of ticket sales that Gal Gadot’s Princess Diana and Jason Momoa’s King of the Seven Seas brought in.
“Shazam!” has already earned $3 million from advanced screenings. The studio partnered with Fandango to build buzz by giving superhero enthusiasts a chance to see the movie two weeks ahead of its official release.
Warner Bros. positioned “Shazam!” well between the slew of superhero titles arriving in theaters this year. It’s arriving over a month after Disney’s “Captain Marvel” and a few weeks ahead of “Avengers: Endgame,” presumably leaving enough time for comic-book nuts to geek out. It’s also targeting an older audience than “Dumbo,” Disney’s live-action remake that debuted last week. The PG movie directed by Tim Burton didn’t overwhelm at the box office, pulling in $45 million.
Aside from superheroes, horror has been a reliable money-maker. That could be a good sign for “Pet Sematary,” a supernatural thriller based on Stephen King’s novel. It’s expected to collect around $20 million, though some independent box office trackers believe that numbers could reach north of $25 million when it opens on 2,500 screens. “Pet Sematary” is also bowing in 48 international markets.
The film could, however, face some competition from Jordan Peele’s “Us,” now in its third weekend of release. Universal’s psychological horror film has amassed over $130 million at the domestic box office.
“Pet Sematary” follows a family who, upon moving to rural Maine, discovers their new home is located near a mysterious burial ground that sets off a chain of horrific events. It stars Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, and John Lithgow. “Pet Sematary” currently holds an 84% on Rotten Tomatoes, high marks for the genre.
The final weekend release is “The Best of Enemies,” a drama from STX starring Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell as a civil rights activist and a KKK leader forced to work together to settle a court-ordered school desegregation decree. The feel-good film, based on a true story, should earn between $6 million and $12 million when it launches on 1,705 screens. That would be a solid start, given its $10 million price tag.
At the specialty box office, Amazon Studios’ “Peterloo” arrives on three screens. The Mike Leigh historical drama is based on Manchester’s 1918 Peterloo Massacre. “Peterloo” premiered at the Venice International Film Festival to mixed reception.
Elsewhere, Neon’s documentary “Amazing Grace” is finally hitting the big screen 46 years after it was shot. The film captures Aretha Franklin as she records her wildly successful album in a Baptist church. Documentaries have been a hot ticket in theaters lately. Several titles, including “RBG,” “Three Identical Strangers” and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” became big box office hits last year.