Clint Eastwood's highly anticipated flight drama "Sully" is expected to top the domestic box-office charts this weekend, providing an early lift to the fall movie season after Hollywood's turbulent summer.
The Warner Bros.-Village Roadshow movie, starring Tom Hanks, is expected to gross $22 million to $25 million in ticket sales from the U.S. and Canada through Sunday, according to people who have reviewed pre-release audience surveys. That should be enough to easily replace Sony's low-budget horror-thriller "Don't Breathe" as the No. 1 movie after it held the crown for two straight weekends.
A powerful debut for "Sully" and other new movies would be welcome news for the film business. While summer's overall box-office numbers were virtually tied with last year at $4.49 billion, cinemas and studios have endured a string of flops including Labor Day misfires such as Disney's "The Light Between Oceans" and 20th Century Fox's "Morgan."
For the full year, the domestic box office is nonetheless tracking ahead of the record-setting 2015 by almost 6%, partly fueled by record ticket prices.
"Sully," which cost $60 million to make, tells the true story of Chesley Sullenberger, the veteran US Airways pilot forced to land his plane on the Hudson River and credited with saving all 155 passengers and crew members. But while he's initially hailed as a hero, Sullenberger must confront growing scrutiny from the press and government investigators that threatens to tarnish his reputation.
The film about "The Miracle on the Hudson" should benefit from Hanks' enduring star power, Eastwood's prestigious standing and early positive buzz from the movie's premiere at the Telluride Film Festival last week. Warner Bros. is hoping that it will perform similarly to hits like "Argo," "Captain Phillips" and "Flight," which opened strong and continued their momentum in the following weeks. "Captain Phillips," the 2013 Oscar nominee starring Hanks, collected $107 million at home after opening to almost $26 million.
Eastwood as a director has established a strong track record generating box-office returns with stories of old-school heroism. His 2014 mega-hit "American Sniper" grossed nearly $550 million worldwide for Warner Bros., thanks to an influx of moviegoers from the Heartland.
Meanwhile, Sony-Screen Gems' new provocative thriller "When the Bough Breaks" should provide an additional boost for theater owners. The $10-million film starring Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall is aiming to gross $16 million to $22 million through Sunday. Sony is conservatively projecting up to $12 million, though such films often do better than expected because tracking analysis regularly underestimates turnout among black moviegoers.
Chestnut ("The Perfect Guy") and Hall ("Think Like a Man Too") play a successful couple who, unable to conceive a child, hire a beautiful young surrogate (Jaz Sinclair) to carry their baby — with potentially deadly consequences. Screen Gems has developed a reliable business catering to African American audiences with movies including "The Wedding Ringer" and "No Good Deed."
Two other wide releases won't do much to pad theater owners' pockets. "The Disappointments Room," a Kate Beckinsale horror movie, is expected to take in about $3 million, probably marking a weak return for Relativity Media. It's the first release from Ryan Kavanaugh's studio since the company emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this year.
Lionsgate will make another play for kids with its animated picture "The Wild Life," a new twist on the story of castaway Robinson Crusoe with talking animals. Despite the apparent appeal of cartoon critters ("Finding Dory," "The Secret Life of Pets"), "The Wild Life" is expected to open with less than $10 million.
Meanwhile, Fede Alvarez's "Don't Breathe," produced by Stage 6 Films, should add about $8 million to its haul as it yields the front-runner position. The $10-million home-invasion-gone-wrong has collected $55 million so far in the U.S. and Canada.