'Rogue One' to dominate Christmas box office as 'Sing' and 'Passengers' open

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is expected to rule the box office during the long Christmas weekend, despite a glut of new films jostling for moviegoers’ dollars. 

The second weekend for the Lucasfilm prequel is expected to easily top newcomers, including the new animated musical “Sing,” the romance-in-space drama “Passengers” and the video-game action flick “Assassin’s Creed.”  

“Rogue One,” released by the Walt Disney Co., dominated last weekend with $155 million in U.S.-Canada box office, making it the third-highest opening of the year.

Driven by strong reviews and high anticipation among the Jedi fanbase, the space saga could add $130 million or more in domestic receipts during the six-day weekend that starts Wednesday, according to analysts. Internationally, “Rogue One” has already earned $151 million for a global total of $323.5 million so far. 

Among the new releases, “Sing” is the clear favorite for second place, especially with kids out of school for the holidays. Described by critics as a cross between “Zootopia” and “American Idol,” “Sing” follows a koala who, with his fellow talking animals, throws a singing competition to save a local theater.

The $75-million production, featuring the voices of Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon, is expected to take in $65 million to $70 million through Monday, according to pre-release audience surveys. That would make it the latest success from Universal Pictures’ animation arm Illumination Entertainment and Illumination’s founder Chris Meledandri, known for “Minions” and “The Secret Life of Pets.” 

For the grownups, Sony Pictures will offer up "Passengers,” a $110-million sci-fi production starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. The studio is hoping the star power and intriguing premise  — two interplanetary travelers wake up from their hibernation pods 90 years too early — will entice moviegoers. The movie could do $40 million during the six-day period. 

However, reviews have been mostly negative for the picture, which was directed by Morten Tyldum of “The Imitation Game.” Sony’s co-financiers on the big-budget film include LStar Capital, Village Roadshow Pictures and China’s Wanda Pictures. 

“Assassin’s Creed,” based on the popular action-packed video game of the same name, is expected to debut with up to $30 million on a $125-million production budget. New Regency produced the movie for 20th Century Fox, and it stars Michael Fassbender as the master assassin of the Ubisoft game series. Game-based movies have traditionally struggled at the box office, but few have boasted the prestige of an actor such as Fassbender (“Steve Jobs”). 

Fox’s other entry is the R-rated comedy “Why Him?” — expected to open Friday to a moderate $12 million in its first weekend. The $38-million movie features Bryan Cranston as a protective dad who clashes with his daughter’s boyfriend, an obnoxious Internet billionaire played by James Franco.  

Meanwhile, Paramount Pictures will expand release of its awards contender “Fences,” starring and directed by Denzel Washington, with a likely $9-million weekend. 

A sturdy crop of limited releases will also seek audience’s attention, including Mark Wahlberg’s “Patriots Day,” about the Boston Marathon bombing. The movie from CBS Films and Lionsgate is poised to do especially strong business in Boston, where some showings have already sold out. Paramount will introduce the new Martin Scorsese epic “Silence” in four theaters in New York and Los Angeles.

ryan.faughnder@latimes.com

Follow Ryan Faughnder on Twitter for more entertainment business coverage: @rfaughnder

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