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Can ‘How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World’ boost a sluggish box office?

Can ‘How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World’ boost a sluggish box office?
"How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World" is expected to lead the weekend box office with about $40 million. (DreamWorks Animation/Universal Pictures)

Hollywood’s attention will be squarely focused on the Oscars this weekend, where “Green Book,” “Roma” and “A Star Is Born” will vie for the top prize. At the same time, the cinema industry is hoping Toothless, the dragon, breathes some fire into the box office.

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“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is expected to top the domestic charts this weekend, with about $40 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada through Sunday, according to people who have reviewed pre-release audience surveys. That would be welcome news for multiplexes that have weathered a rough 2019 so far, thanks to disappointments including “The Lego Movie 2” and “Alita: Battle Angel.”

Ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada are down 18% from the same period a year ago, according to data firm Comscore, thanks to a lack of hits compared with 2018, which had “Black Panther.” “Alita” led a dismal Presidents Day weekend that marked a 15-year low for the holiday period.

Here’s what to watch:

Fire and fury

A launch of $40 million or more would be a promising start for “The Hidden World,” the third film in the DreamWorks Animation series that began nine years ago. The new film is the first DreamWorks Animation movie since mid-2017, coming after Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal bought the Glendale studio for $3.8 billion in 2016.

The original film in the critically acclaimed series opened with $44 million in North America and ended up collecting nearly $500 million in worldwide box-office sales. A 2014 sequel opened with $49 million, on its way to a global tally of $620 million, buoyed by box-office growth in foreign countries.

“The Hidden World,” which cost an estimated $129 million to make, got a head start internationally last month. The film, written and directed by Dean DeBlois, has scored $175 million from 49 countries, including Chile, Mexico and Britain. It opens in China, the world’s second-largest box-office market, on March 1.

Fighting with ‘The Rock’

The only other major film braving an opening during Oscars weekend is MGM’s “Fighting with My Family,” a PG-13 comedy about the WWE star known as Paige. The well-reviewed film stars Florence Pugh (“Lady Macbeth”) as the famed pro wrestler, alongside a cast that includes Lena Headey and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who also executive produced.

“Fighting with My Family” is expected to gross about $7 million from its expanded release after collecting $200,000 from its limited run.

Fighting with Netflix (again)

Oscar drama is heating up, with the industry waiting to see what film wins a tense battle for best picture. Netflix’s “Roma,” widely considered a front-runner for Sunday night’s highest honor, continued its momentum at the 72nd British Academy Film Awards in London this month, where it won best film.

But the film’s success has irked cinema owners, who say Netflix’s release strategy for “Roma” undermines their business model. Netflix released “Roma” and other movies three weeks ahead of their streaming debut, giving cinemas a significantly shorter exclusive window than they’re used to.

Now, it appears major European cinema chain Vue Cinemas has had enough. Chief Executive J. Timothy Richards, in a letter to the British academy Tuesday, blasted the decision to bestow honors on “Roma,” calling it a “made for TV film.” He also threatened to end the company’s support for the awards unless the group changes its eligibility requirements.

“We believe that BAFTA has not lived up to its usual high standards this year in choosing to endorse and promote a ‘made for TV’ film that audiences were unable to see on a big screen,” he wrote in the letter, which was posted online by Hollywood Reporter and other outlets.

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