Sony’s sequel “Zombieland: Double Tap” has launched with $2.9 million at 3,052 sites in Thursday night previews in North America, topping Angelina Jolie’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” with $2.3 million.

“Zombieland: Double Tap” is opening at 3,450 domestic locations. It’s the first major studio comedy since “Good Boys” opened in mid-August and wound up as 2019’s top-grossing live-action comedy with $82 million.

The original “Zombieland” opened a decade ago with a $24 million launch weekend and totaled $76 million in North America. “Zombieland: Double Tap” is expected to finish in the same range as the original. Lead cast members Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, and Emma Stone return to a world where many new kinds of zombies have evolved since the first movie. They also face the growing pains of their own makeshift family, which spends much of the movie fending off relentless zombie attacks.

“Venom” helmer Ruben Fleischer returned to direct from a script by original writers Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick and Dave Callaham. Rosario Dawson, Zoey Deutch, Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch joined the cast of the sequel, which had a production budget of $42 million.

Disney’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” has been forecast to open around $45 million this weekend at 3,790 theaters. The original “Maleficent” earned $4.2 million in Thursday night previews on its way to a $69 million opening weekend in 2014. It went on to become a box office smash, earning more than $750 million globally from a $180 million budget.

The cast includes returnees Elle Fanning, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Lesley Manville and newcomers Michelle Pfeiffer, Ed Skrein and Chiwetel Ejoifor. Joachim Ronning, who co-directed “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” helmed “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.” The story centers on Maleficent and her goddaughter Aurora (played by Fanning) and the impact of Aurora’s upcoming marriage.

“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” is also opening this weekend in all major international markets, and started on Wednesday with France, Scandinavia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. Disney has held premieres in London, Moscow and Rome in addition to the Sept. 30 premiere in Hollywood.

The third weekend of “Joker” will compete with “Zombieland: Double Tap” for second place. “Joker” has become a major success story for Warner Bros. with $213 million in North America in less than two weeks.

North American box office has been improving since mid-July, when it was down 9% compared with 2018. That gap has narrowed by 5.2% with $8.95 billion as of Oct. 16, according to Comscore. Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with Comscore, said both new releases are well-timed to take advantage of the approach of Halloween.

“The first ‘Zombieland’ was an unexpected critical favorite and box office hit that struck a chord with audiences and now some 10 years after that film’s release, this sequel brings back the original creative team and core cast to work pre-Halloween audiences into a frenzy while working its box-office zombie magic,” he said. “An R-rated comedy horror hybrid such as ‘Zombieland: Double Tap’ is the perfect movie to showcase the fun and interactive nature of the communal big screen experience and this will make it an essential movie this weekend.”
“Likewise, Disney will present a PG-rated option for family audiences looking to get their Halloween movie fix with ‘Maleficent: Mistress of Evil’ that comes some five years after the first installment and will grab up its fairest share of audience this weekend,” Dergarabedian added.