Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish’s ‘Night School’ to battle ‘Smallfoot’ for box office crown

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Tiffany Haddish, left, and Kevin Hart in a scene from "Night School," in theaters nationwide on Sept. 28.
(Eli Ade/Universal Pictures )

Universal Pictures is hoping Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish make for a comedy dream at the box office. Their only competition will be a friendly Yeti.

Hart and Haddish’s PG-13-rated “Night School” and Warner Bros.’ snowy animated film “Smallfoot” are both expected to gross a solid $25 million to $30 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada from Friday through Sunday, according to industry projections. Courting distinct audiences, the two films will wage a close battle for the No. 1 spot at the domestic box office, replacing last week’s chart-topper “The House With a Clock in Its Walls.”

The double billing should continue to keep movie theaters busy as the fall film season starts to kick into gear with buzzy studio movies such as Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s “A Star Is Born,” Sony’s “Venom” and Damien Chazelle’s “First Man,” which open in the coming weeks. Domestic ticket sales are up 8% so far from a lackluster 2017, according to ComScore.


Here’s what to watch:

Will Hart and Haddish school ‘Smallfoot’?

“Night School” is looking to benefit from a potentially potent duo. Hart is one of today’s most bankable box-office draws, with recent hits including “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.” Haddish catapulted to stardom last year because of her breakout performance in Universal’s 2017 R-rated smash “Girls Trip,” which grossed $115 million in the U.S. and Canada.

“Night School,” about a group of misfits going for their GEDs, represents the latest effort from “Girls Trip” producer Will Packer, who has made a lucrative career out of making popular films specifically targeted at African American moviegoers. Packer’s track record includes such commercial successes as the “Think Like a Man” and “Ride Along” series. “Girls Trip” director Malcolm D. Lee returned to the Packer fold for “Night School.” Analysts say the movie could gross more than $30 million through Sunday.

Meanwhile, the computer-animated “Smallfoot” will try to draw kids and families to the multiplex with its story about a Yeti who forges an unlikely bond with a human. A $25-million-to-$30-million opening would be a respectable start for the $80-million film, similar to the premiere of “Peter Rabbit” earlier this year. Reviews have been solid, indicated by a 77% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The new movie faces some competition for its target family audience from Universal’s “The House With a Clock in its Walls,” which launched with $26 million last weekend.

Retro horror to slay?

Meanwhile, Lionsgate and CBS Films’ new low-budget slasher movie “Hell Fest,” about a masked killer who targets his unsuspecting victims at a traveling horror-themed carnival, will try to draw pre-Halloween moviegoers seeking old-school scares. In an attempt to evoke the classic teen slasher flicks of the 1980s, the studio recently released a retro trailer, complete with neon studio logos and a cheesy voice-over (“His idea of fun … is murder!”).

“Hell Fest,” directed by Gregory Plotkin (“Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension”), is expected to take in $5 million to $7 million in its first weekend. It cost $5.5 million to produce.

The only other major release this week is Pinnacle Peak’s “Little Women,” a modern retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s late-1860s novel. It will probably gross $4 million or less.