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'Independence Day' to challenge 'Finding Dory' in box office battle of the sequels

'Independence Day' to challenge 'Finding Dory' in box office battle of the sequels
"Independence Day: Resurgence" is expected to enjoy a solid debut at theaters this weekend. (20th Century Fox)

This weekend's box-office matchup is a battle of long-awaited sequels that's likely to further boost summer ticket sales. Arriving in theaters 20 years after its predecessor, "Independence Day: Resurgence" will try to unseat last weekend's victor, "Finding Dory," which hit cinemas 13 years post-"Finding Nemo."

Disney-Pixar's "Finding Dory" should gross about $65 million Friday through Sunday in the U.S. and Canada, after breaking the record for the biggest animated film opening with $135 million.

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The "Independence Day" follow-up, from 20th Century Fox, is expected to debut with $55 million to $60 million, according to people who have seen prerelease audience surveys. That would be a solid start for the sci-fi action film that cost $165 million to make, despite the absence of original star Will Smith.

The 1996 "Independence Day," directed by Roland Emmerich, was a massive summer hit that broke records in its first week and eventually grossed $817 million worldwide, setting new standards for box-office juggernauts along the way. The advanced special effects, including the fiery destruction of the White House and other landmarks, drew audiences to sold-out theaters across the U.S., despite mixed reviews.

The new iteration, in which earthlings again must defend the planet against alien invaders, is missing the star power of Smith, but brings back Emmerich as director and original actors Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman, plus franchise newcomer Liam Hemsworth.

This summer's movie season has been plagued with lackluster sequels, but movies like "Finding Dory" and last year's "Jurassic World" prove that audiences are willing to go back to old stories.

Three other new releases will fight for audience attention as "Dory" and "Independence Day" dominate the multiplexes, but none are likely to do much business.

STX Entertainment, the Burbank-based company that launched in 2014 with ambitions to become the next big Hollywood studio, will release the Matthew McConaughey Civil War drama "Free State of Jones." The tale of Southern farmer Newton Knight's rebellion against the Confederacy is expected to draw about $15 million in its initial weekend. The historical epic cost about $50 million to make.

And as McConaughey battles gray-uniformed Rebels, Blake Lively will fight a vicious great white shark. Sony Pictures' "The Shallows," in which Lively plays a surfer stranded offshore in shark-infested waters, is expected to gross $7 million to $8 million. That would be a middling start for an action-thriller that cost just $17 million to make.

For more indie-inclined moviegoers, there's "The Neon Demon," an artsy horror-thriller from "Drive" director Nicolas Winding Refn. Upstart distributor Broad Green is releasing the R-rated film about an aspiring fashion model trying to make it in Los Angeles, which met with intense controversy at the Cannes Film Festival.

Audiences are expected to largely avoid it, despite its wide release. The movie is likely to gross $3 million or less through Sunday.

Follow Ryan Faughnder on Twitter for more entertainment business coverage: @rfaughnder

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UPDATES:

2:57 p.m.: This post was updated with additional details on "Free State of Jones."

This article was originally published at 2:03 p.m.

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