Twentieth-Century Fox and Hugh Jackman are finally giving X-Men fans what they've wanted for years — an R-rated Wolverine movie. The latest installment of the tortured, claw-fisted mutant should tear up the box office, thanks to heightened anticipation from followers of the series and rave reviews from film critics.
"Logan," Jackman's final film as the iconic self-healing mutant he's now played nine times in 17 years, will easily become the No. 1 movie in the U.S. and Canada this weekend, replacing Universal Pictures' surprise horror hit "Get Out."
Anticipation is high
Wolverine is arguably the most popular of the X-Men characters, and the role is certainly Jackman's best-known, so the "Logan" farewell tour has understandably excited fans, especially since the first trailer hit the Web in November.
"Logan," directed by James Mangold, is expected to gross more than $70 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada from Friday through Sunday, according to people who have seen pre-release audience surveys. The most optimistic industry observers privately say the $127-million film could go as high as $80 million, which would place it among the biggest R-rated openings ever.
R-rated superheroes are still relatively untested at the box office. But "Deadpool," the irreverent 2016 anti-hero action comedy starring Ryan Reynolds, proved there was a major market by opening with $132 million, a record for an R-rated movie.
Wolverine has long proved to be the most bankable core character of the X-Men franchise, with his own hit stand-alone movies "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" in 2009 ($85-million opening), followed by "The Wolverine" in 2013 ($53-million debut). Previous Wolverine and X-Men movies have all been rated PG-13.
Critics love it
"Logan" premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival on Feb. 17 to overwhelmingly positive reviews. The film, based on the "Old Man Logan" comic, follows an aged and weary Wolverine caring for an ailing Professor X (Patrick Stewart) in hiding — but their world is changed when they encounter a young mutant girl.
The picture has a 93% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the review aggregation website, with critics praising its dark twist on the superhero genre that echoes gritty westerns such as Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven."
Sensing a hit, Fox is not holding back on distribution. "Logan" is poised to be the widest R-rated release ever, hitting 4,100 domestic theaters this weekend. That tops the 3,885 locations that carried Warner Bros.' "American Sniper" in 2015. The movie will also get a wide international release this weekend, including China, the second-biggest box-office market.
Unless you count Warner Bros.' "The Lego Batman Movie" from February, it has been several months since the last big superhero movie, leaving audiences ready for a big-budget popcorn flick.
And there isn't much competition. "The Shack," a faith-based movie from Lionsgate starring Sam Worthington and Octavia Spencer, is poised for an opening of $10 million to $12 million. Based on a Christian novel of the same name, "The Shack" stars Worthington as a man who meets three personifications of God after the death of his youngest daughter.
Open Road Films' new teen mystery "Before I Fall" — about a high school girl (Zoey Deutch) who keeps reliving her last day alive — is expected to open with less than $10 million. It probably will be the latest disappointment for indie distributor Open Road, which also delivered last weekend's biggest flop — the action thriller "Collide."
On the bright side, "Get Out," the social commentary-laden horror movie from Jordan Peele, Blumhouse Productions and Universal that collected $33.4 million last weekend, should continue to do brisk business based on the strong response from critics and audiences.
Meanwhile, Sunday night's surprise best picture winner, "Moonlight," from A24, will seek a big Oscar boost by expanding to about 1,200 cinemas this week. The $1.5-million coming of age story about a gay black boy in Miami has grossed $22.3 million in the U.S. and Canada, the lowest of the nine best-picture nominees so far.