It's going to be Disney versus Disney at the box office this weekend.
The studio's long-awaited adaptation of the children's fantasy "A Wrinkle in Time" opens Friday in an attempt to take the baton from "Black Panther," the superhero juggernaut produced by Disney's Marvel unit.
According to analysts, the box-office race is a dead heat as of Tuesday projections. Each film is poised to gross roughly $35 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada from Friday through Sunday, according to people who have reviewed pre-release audience surveys.
Walt Disney Co. is in the enviable position of having two major films — both of which feature diverse casts and African American directors — vying for the No. 1 position at the domestic box office. The downside is the possibility that "Black Panther" might steal some of "A Wrinkle in Time's" thunder as the Burbank entertainment giant tries to launch a new live-action franchise. Either way, Disney will have the top film at the box office for the fourth straight weekend.
‘Wrinkle’ to rise?
"A Wrinkle in Time," directed by Ava DuVernay of "Selma," is an unusually risky bet for Disney, which is increasingly relying on its established brands such as Pixar, Lucasfilm, Marvel and remakes of its animated classics to drive box-office sales. The 1962 novel by Madeleine L'Engle, about a young girl who explores cosmic realms in search of her scientist father, is beloved among fans of young-adult literature but is untested as a film property.
The PG-rated "Wrinkle" is likely to collect $35 million to $38 million domestically in its opening weekend, according to analysts. Though that result would not put it anywhere close to blockbuster status, it would top recent Disney live-action disappointments such as Steven Spielberg's "The BFG" and Brad Bird's "Tomorrowland." In a positive sign, "A Wrinkle in Time," which stars Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling and Storm Reid, among others, is currently leading weekend pre-sales on Fandango.
Like "Black Panther," "A Wrinkle in Time" represents a milestone for film diversity at a time when studios are taking heat for not giving enough opportunities to women and nonwhite directors. "Wrinkle" is the first movie with a production budget of at least $100 million to be directed by a woman of color. Musician Questlove this week asked followers on social media to donate money online to allow kids to see the film for free.
‘Panther’ roars again
"Black Panther" is set to continue its stellar run this weekend, after grossing more than $506 million in the U.S. and Canada so far, making it the ninth-highest-grossing movie ever, not adjusting for inflation.
The question is how big it will get internationally. "Black Panther," directed by Ryan Coogler and starring Chadwick Boseman, has clawed its way to $403 million overseas for a global total of nearly $910 million, defying conventional Hollywood wisdom about the worldwide playability of movies with predominantly black casts.
The last major test comes Friday, when the blockbuster hits theaters in China, the world's second-largest box-office market.
Best of the rest
Rival distributors will launch a handful of smaller movies as the Disney titans battle at the box office.
Aviron Pictures' low-budget horror sequel "The Strangers: Prey at Night," about a family road trip that goes horribly wrong at a mobile home park, is expected to scare up $7 million to $9 million in its debut. The new thriller is the follow-up to Rogue Pictures' 2008 success "The Strangers," which grossed $82 million worldwide.
STX Entertainment and Amazon Studios' R-rated comedy "Gringo" and Entertainment Studios' $40-million action thriller "Hurricane Heist" are both expected to open with $4 million to $7 million, according to analysts.
After its best picture win at Sunday's Oscars, Guillermo del Toro's "The Shape of Water" will probably gross about $2.5 million in ticket sales this weekend. The film won four honors at the Academy Awards, including statuettes for director, score and production design. The $19.5-million Fox Searchlight movie, a Cold War fable about a mute woman who falls for a fish-man, has taken in $57 million in the U.S. and Canada so far.