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With ‘Rings,’ Paramount hopes moviegoers want a sequel to 15-year-old horror hit

“Rings” is the third film in a series, preceded by 2002’s “The Ring” and 2005’s “The Ring Two.”

M. Night Shyamalan is No. 1 at the box-office. There’s a new “Ring” movie coming out this weekend. And no, it’s not the early 2000s.

This box office is poised for a tight four-way race for the top spot in the U.S. and Canada as two horror movies compete with awards season favorites. Meanwhile, studios and movie theaters are bracing for Super Bowl weekend, when moviegoers are more likely to stay on their sofas than trek to the multiplex.

The box-office crown could go to Shyamalan’s “Split” for the third weekend in a row, continuing a career comeback for the writer-director. Or Paramount’s horror reboot “Rings” could snatch the top prize after the franchise’s long absence from theaters. There’s also a chance that Oscar contenders “La La Land” and “Hidden Figures” can ride their awards-season hype to the top of the pile.

Here’s the case for, and against, each of the top contenders.

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Put a “Ring” on it

Revisiting a 15-year old horror phenomenon, about a video that kills people who watch it, makes sense on paper, and Paramount Pictures is hoping that its digital-age update of the long-dormant franchise can bring new and old fans into theaters.

The 2002 original “The Ring” was a highly profitable blockbuster for DreamWorks Pictures ($250 million in worldwide ticket sales) and launched a frenzy of companies looking to remake Japanese fright-fests for American audiences. The only other new wide release is STX Entertainment’s romantic sci-fi offering “The Space Between Us,” which is on track for a soft $10-million debut.

But according to people who have seen pre-release audience survey, the series may not have aged as well as hoped. “Rings,” a $25-million film, is expected to gross $10 million to $15 million in ticket sales from the U.S. and Canada this Friday through Sunday, according to box-office trackers, and Paramount is setting its expectations at the low end of those estimates. Thus, the film is likely to launch significantly lower than the debut of 2005’s sequel “The Ring Two,” which opened with $35 million domestically.

A nostalgia boost from 30-somethings who cowered before the original as teenagers might help, especially if reviews are good. But there’s already been plenty of successful horror in recent weeks, with “Split” and “The Bye Bye Man,” and “Rings” could end up suffering the disappointing fate of Lionsgate’s “Blair Witch.”

“Split” the difference

Shyamalan, the director behind “The Sixth Sense” and “Signs,” has a new bona fide hit with “Split,” starring James McAvoy as a kidnapper with multiple personalities. The thriller has grossed $77 million since its Jan. 20 release and has shown surprising staying power because of mostly positive reviews and audience buzz. The movie did $25 million in sales last weekend for a No. 1 finish, and could surprise again this week unless “Rings” stakes its claim on the horror crowds.

Oscar rising

The rule of this season is don’t underestimate “La La Land” or “Hidden Figures.” Both are crowd-pleasers that have multiple Oscar nominations and have passed the $100-million mark domestically. “La La Land,” from Lionsgate, has steadily increased its theater count since its limited release in December, and posted a $12-million take last weekend, up 45% from the previous go-around. Its record-tying 14 Oscar nominations should keep the momentum going strong.

Twentieth Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment’s “Hidden Figures” surprised the industry by taking the No. 1 position two weekends in a row when it first went into wide release. The film added $14 million to its total last weekend, little changed from the prior frame. The space race movie, about black female mathematicians and engineers who helped put the first Americans in space, is also expected to continue its impressive run.

ryan.faughnder@latimes.com

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@rfaughnder


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