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'The Emoji Movie' is expected to beat 'Atomic Blonde' in box office face-off

Sony Pictures’ decision to make an animated movie about the secret lives of happy- and frowney-faced emojis drew plenty of eye rolls two years ago when the project was first revealed. But “The Emoji Movie,” centered around the popular texting icons, is hoping to bring tears of joy to executives’ faces with its box office returns — and merchandise sales.

The computer-generated comedy, starring former “Silicon Valley” star T.J. Miller as a “meh”-faced emoji with no filter, has a decent shot at topping the domestic box office charts this weekend with up to $30 million in ticket sales. Sony is trying to extend a much-needed box office winning streak that has included the recent hits “Spider-Man: Homecoming” ($252 million domestic) and “Baby Driver” ($84 million).

Yet it will face substantial competition from Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed war film “Dunkirk,” which is expected to continue to do strong business for Warner Bros. after a better-than-anticipated debut of $50 million last weekend. Meanwhile, Charlize Theron will try to continue her reign as Hollywood’s premier female action star in the violent thriller “Atomic Blonde,” from Comcast Corp.’s Focus Features.

Yay or meh?

“The Emoji Movie” is expected to collect $25 million to $30 million in ticket sales from the United States and Canada Friday through Sunday, according to people who have reviewed prerelease audience surveys. (Sony is conservatively projecting a $20-million opening.) For context, that’s less than Sony Pictures’ 2016 kids movie “The Angry Birds Movie,” which opened with a solid $38 million. “The Emoji Movie” cost about $50 million before marketing, according to people close to the studio.

The new movie, directed by Tony Leondis, has a chance to take the top spot in the U.S. and Canada from “Dunkirk,” which is likely to gross about $25 million this weekend. “Dunkirk’s” grosses have been bolstered by powerful reviews (92% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes) and widespread interest in Nolan’s rendering of the mission to rescue Allied soldiers from a French beach as Nazi forces close in.

“The Emoji Movie” takes place in an app-filled world where emojis — including Patrick Stewart as the voice of Poop — live while they wait to be used in humans’ text messages. Reviews haven’t been published for the new cartoon, but on paper, the timing is right. It’s been about a month since the release of Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment’s “Despicable Me 3,” the latest animated studio movie, so there’s little direct competition for children’s attention at theaters.

Focus Features shows Charlize Theron, left, and Sofia Boutella in "Atomic Blonde."
Focus Features shows Charlize Theron, left, and Sofia Boutella in "Atomic Blonde." (Jonathan Prime/Focus Features via AP)

Going nuclear

“Atomic Blonde,” the decidedly R-rated action thriller starring Theron as a highly skilled and lethal spy, was met with raves when it debuted at the South by Southwest film festival in March. The film’s wide release will test audience’s appetite for the stylish picture that’s being billed as a female twist on James Bond and John Wick movies.

The film, distributed by Focus Features and produced and financed by Sierra/Affinity, is poised to open with about $20 million in the U.S. and Canada through Sunday. Reviews have been generally positive, and Theron has developed a reputation as an action star, most recently stealing the show as a one-armed rebel in George Miller’s Oscar-winning 2015 Warner Bros. film “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

Another female-focused R-rated movie, Universal’s “Girls Trip,” is likely to remain a contender after obliterating box office expectations last week. The low-budget New Orleans-set buddy comedy — starring Regina Hall, Tiffany Haddish, Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah — scored $31 million in ticket sales, topping preopening estimates of about $20 million.

In limited release, Paramount Pictures is distributing “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power," the follow-up to the Oscar-winning 2006 documentary about global warming, starring former Vice President Al Gore and produced by Participant Media.

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ryan.faughnder@latimes.com

@rfaughnder

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