Hollywood is bracing for another tepid weekend at the box office after a disappointing Memorial Day holiday.
Paramount Pictures' "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" sequel is likely to bring in $35 million to $40 million from its domestic debut as it battles 20th Century Fox's "X-Men: Apocalypse" for the top of the charts. That would be considerably less than the opening for its 2014 predecessor, which grossed a strong $65 million in its first three days.
Such an outcome would be more lackluster news for the film industry, which is limping away from a four-day weekend that clocked in well shy of analysts' predictions. Weighing down results was Walt Disney Co.'s sequel "Alice Through the Looking Glass," which grossed a sluggish $34 million Friday through Monday, or roughly half of what observers had projected.
"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows," which cost $135 million to make and was produced by Michael Bay, may turn out to be the latest example of sequels struggling to measure up to the originals. Studios have long relied on such retreads to pad their film slates and propel merchandising. But this year multiple follow-ups have underwhelmed.
Universal Pictures' "Neighbors 2" failed to live up to projections, and "The Huntsman: Winter's War" flopped. "Zoolander 2" bombed for Paramount this year, despite the ongoing cult popularity of the original. Even the $80-million opening for "X-Men: Apocalypse" came in 27% lower than the debut for the previous installment, 2014's "X-Men: Days of Future Past."
"Sequels are basically about slowly beating a dead horse," said Jeff Bock, a box-office analyst with Exhibitor Relations. "Recycling old ideas is money in the bank, but it's never as much money in the bank as it was before."
To be sure, Warner Bros.' "The Conjuring 2" and Disney-Pixar's "Finding Dory" are on track to boost Hollywood's business. Analysts also have high hopes for Fox's long-brewing "Independence Day" reboot.
Nonetheless, the key summer movie season appears to be on uncertain ground this year, with few surefire hits on the immediate horizon.
"The good news is, all it takes is one or two movies to turn things around," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at ComScore. "The combo of 'TMNT' and then 'Finding Dory' and other films had better get things back on track and put the wind back in the sails of this summer movie season."
"X-Men" is expected to take in $25 million to $30 million this weekend, meaning the ninja turtles have a chance to unseat it as the No. 1 movie in the U.S. and Canada.
Little else is expected to generate much business this weekend. "Me Before You," a romantic drama starring "Game of Thrones" actress Emilia Clarke, is likely to haul in $12 million to $14 million. The picture, from Warner Bros.' New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, carries a production budget estimated at less than $25 million.
Clarke plays a young woman who falls for a paralyzed man in her care, played by English actor Sam Claflin. Author Jojo Moyes wrote the screenplay based on her own bestselling novel of the same name.
Analysts say it may draw a strong date-night crowd in the coming weeks.
"That may not have a big opening, but I think it may have a lot of staying power," said Shawn Robbins, an analyst with Boxoffice.com.
The only other wide release in cinemas this weekend is Universal's R-rated comedy "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping," which is poised to open to $7 million to $8 million.
Starring Andy Samberg as a former boy band member who falls on hard times as a solo artist, "Popstar" is billed as a mock biopic in the tradition of "This is Spinal Tap" and "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story."
Musical parodies have proved to be a difficult sell for a general audience, but the studio probably hopes the movie will find a fan base to generate business on home video and television, giving it life after the box office.
With its "Ninja Turtles" sequel, Paramount is hoping to recapture some of the success of its 2014 offering, which relied on computer graphics to bring Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael to the big screen.
The first take captured $191 million in ticket sales domestically and $302 million internationally for a strong global total of $493 million.
This time around, Paramount is looking to capitalize on the growth of the international film business, especially in China. Chinese companies Alibaba Group and Dalian Wanda Group both pledged to invest in the film.
Paramount on Tuesday announced that the film will have a one-week run in Imax 3-D theaters starting this week, after a digital remastering for the premium format.