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‘Lego Movie’ sequel and ‘What Men Want’ to boost box office after Super Bowl doldrums

‘Lego Movie’ sequel and ‘What Men Want’ to boost box office after Super Bowl doldrums
Characters voiced by Elizabeth Banks and Chris Pratt in "The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part." (Warner Bros. Pictures / TNS)

After offshoots focusing on Batman and a team of ninjas, Warner Bros.’ “Lego Movie” franchise is returning to its essential building blocks.

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“The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part” is expected to gross a strong $50 million to $55 million in ticket sales Thursday evening through Sunday, according to people who have read prerelease audience surveys.

The Phil Lord-and-Christopher Miller-penned computer-animated sequel will easily unseat Universal Pictures’ “Glass” as the No. 1 domestic movie, and provide a boost to multiplexes after the slowest Super Bowl weekend box office in 19 years.

Here’s what to watch:

Sum of its parts

Lego Movie 2,” set in a “Mad Max: Fury Road”-style post-apocalypse, comes five years after Warner Animation Group turned the toy shelf staple into a surprise box office smash, with its anarchic, self-referential humor and rampant pop culture references.

The first film opened with $69 million in the U.S. and Canada and went on to collect $469 million in global receipts, proving hugely profitable and spawning two spinoffs in short order.

The sequel probably won’t top the opening of the original. Plus, it cost more. The new film carries a price tag of $99 million, not counting marketing, far exceeding the $60-million production budget of the 2014 “Lego Movie.” But critics’ reviews are working in the cartoon’s favor, indicated by a 92% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

If it does well, the film could allay some indications that the series is wearing thin with audiences after previous spinoffs produced diminishing returns. “The Lego Batman Movie,” starring Will Arnett, grossed $312 million worldwide in early 2017, followed the same year by “The Lego Ninjago Movie,” which did a disappointing $123 million.

What audiences want?

After the release of 2000’s hit “What Women Want,” comedian Dave Chappelle joked that they could never make a gender-reversed version, because it would be too disgusting to hear men’s unfiltered thoughts.

He’s been proven wrong.

Paramount Pictures this weekend releases “What Men Want,” a twist on the Nancy Meyers-directed romantic comedy that starred Mel Gibson as a chauvinist ad executive.

In the #MeToo era-appropriate 2019 version, it’s Taraji P. Henson (“Empire”) who gains mind-reading powers, which proves advantageous in her male-dominated sports agency job. The R-rated movie, which co-stars Tracy Morgan and cost $20 million to make, is expected to debut with a solid $18 million to $20 million through Sunday. The film is produced by Will Packer, who also made “Girls Trip” and specializes in movies catering to black audiences.

The new film enters a marketplace that’s much tougher for romcoms compared with 19 years ago, when the PG-13 “What Women Want” generated $183 million in domestic ticket sales, making it the fifth highest-grossing picture that year. These days, theatrical hits in the genre are few and far between, with exceptions including last year’s “Crazy Rich Asians.”

Deadpool in China

20th Century Fox’s R-rated anti-hero Deadpool has charmed global audiences with his blood-soaked antics, but both “Deadpool” and its 2018 sequel were rejected by Chinese censors, who tightly control what people in the second-biggest box office market can see.

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But in an unlikely success story, the foul-mouthed mercenary managed to finally tap the lucrative Chinese market this year after the release of “Once Upon a Deadpool,” a PG-13-rated recut version of “Deadpool 2.”

In a sign that there might be an appetite for Ryan Reynolds’ merc with a mouth in the Middle Kingdom, the film has grossed $42 million in the country since its Jan. 25 release ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday, a period in which the government prevents new Hollywood movies from opening in order to favor local productions. The film collected $19 million last week, according to consultancy Artisan Gateway.

While not huge by China box office standards, “Once Upon a Deadpool’s” performance is solid for what’s essentially a cleaned up cash-grab version of a movie that came out last May.

“It shows an awareness and interest in the Deadpool character and story by Chinese audiences,” said Artisan Gateway Chief Executive Rance Pow. “I think the release was well timed on the heels of ‘Bumblebee’ and ‘Aquaman.’”

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