Aquaman — DC Comics’ amphibious hero from the lost city of Atlantis — just doesn’t get the respect that his land-loving counterparts Batman and Superman enjoy.
That could change this weekend when Warner Bros.’ “Aquaman,” starring “Game of Thrones” muscleman Jason Momoa, opens in theaters. The $200-million superhero film is expected to top the domestic box-office charts with $65 million to $70 million in ticket sales Friday through Sunday, according to people who have reviewed pre-release audience surveys. That will probably be enough to top Disney’s “Mary Poppins Returns” and Paramount’s “Transformers” spinoff “Bumblebee,” which also open this weekend.
The pre-Christmas slew of big movies should lift the tide for the North American box office, which is expected to close the year with record annual grosses, representing a turnaround from a lackluster 2017. So far, movies have grossed $11.1 billion in the U.S. and Canada in 2018, up 9% from last year.
Here’s what to watch:
Holding its breath
“Aquaman,” directed by James Wan (“The Conjuring”), is the first release in Warner Bros.’ extended universe of comic book movies since last year’s poorly received “Justice League,” which grossed $658 million worldwide on a hefty $300-million budget.
In a positive sign for “Aquaman,” critics’ responses have been generally favorable, if not euphoric, indicated by a 69% positive score on Rotten Tomatoes. A $65-million three-day domestic opening would be lower than Warner Bros.’ recent superhero movies that featured more popular DC characters. “Wonder Woman” premiered with $103 million last summer, for example.
The effects-heavy “Aquaman” is already a big hit overseas, grossing more than $250 million outside the U.S. and Canada. A whopping $189 million of that has come from the all-important Chinese market, where the studio released the movie early this month to avoid the country’s customary year-end blackout for imported films.
‘Poppins’ vs. ‘Bumblebee’
Second place will probably go to “Mary Poppins Returns,” Disney’s latest attempt to revive a classic tale from its studio vault.
The follow-up to Disney’s classic 1964 musical about a magical British nanny is expected to collect about $55 million through Sunday after its Wednesday opening in theaters, according analyst estimates. The Burbank studio’s projection is much more conservative, at about $35 million for the five-day opening.
Starring Emily Blunt in the title role made famous by Julie Andrews, “Mary Poppins Returns” has earned mostly positive reviews and will probably appeal to family audiences.
But surprisingly, it’s the “Transformers” offshoot that has the practically perfect-in-every-way Rotten Tomatoes score of 97%.
“Bumblebee,” directed by respected filmmaker Travis Knight (“Kubo and the Two Strings"), is earning kudos for its more character-driven take on the Michael Bay-created film franchise. The film, focused on an Autobot named Bumblebee, is an attempt by Paramount Pictures to refresh the series after five movies featuring Hasbro’s robots in disguise.
Whether critical acclaim will translate into box-office returns remains to be seen. The studio is projecting an opening of less than $25 million for the film, a low for the franchise, though analysts say it could go higher than $40 million. “Bumblebee” cost $137 million to produce after receiving a $22-million tax credit for shooting in California.
Not a warm welcome?
Prospects are not looking so good for Robert Zemeckis’ new drama “Welcome to Marwen,” starring Steve Carell as a man who copes with memory loss by creating figurines based on the women in his life.
The $39-million inspirational film is poised for a soft opening of $7 million to $13 million, according to tracking surveys. Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures financed the film, which is struggling to generate interest in a competitive market dominated by big movie brands.