‘Hunger Games’ Leads Slew of Box Office Newcomers That Will Likely Bury ‘The Marvels’


It was bad enough for “The Marvels” to suffer a Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise low $46.1 million opening amidst fan reception that was mildly positive at best. It’s likely to get worse this weekend as a slew of pre-Thanksgiving newcomers, led by the return of “The Hunger Games,” will peel away much of the lingering interest in the new Marvel film among casual moviegoers.

Likely to take No.1 will be Lionsgate’s “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” a prequel to the YA novel series that Lionsgate turned into four films in the early 2010s that still remain the highest-grossing in studio history.

Other films arriving this weekend include Universal/DreamWorks’ “Trolls Band Together,” Searchlight’s “Next Goal Wins,” and Sony/TriStar’s tongue-in-cheek slasher film “Thanksgiving.”

Given its setting before the events of the “Hunger Games” trilogy, which means no Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” isn’t expected to score the $100 million-plus openings that all four of its predecessors did.

But with a reported budget of $100 million, “Songbirds and Snakes” is on pace to be a solid hit for Lionsgate with trackers currently projecting an opening of $50-55 million, with some exhibition sources telling TheWrap they believe the film has the potential to reach $60 million.

Critical reception for the “Hunger Games” prequel has skewed positive, standing at 67% on Rotten Tomatoes with 54 reviews logged. But the critics won’t matter as much as the fans, and it remains to be seen how many moviegoers are interested enough in the world of “Hunger Games” to see a film that serves as an origin story for the series’ main villain.

“Trolls Band Together” is being projected for a $35 million opening, down from the $46 million opening that the first “Trolls” earned back in 2016 before going on to gross a respectable $153 million domestic and $346.8 million worldwide.

The second installment of the DreamWorks series, “Trolls World Tour,” famously was pulled from theaters at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic for a straight-to-on-demand release, kicking off a wave of release date delays, day-and-date experiments, and negotiations by theater chains like AMC and Cinemark that brought the long-guarded 90-day theatrical exclusivity window to an end.

Of course, few families (if any) interested in “Trolls 3” will think of that or of the mildly positive reviews the film has received with a 63% RT score. As the first animated family film to hit theaters since “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem” towards the end of the summer, “Trolls 3” should have plenty of draw among parents with younger kids.

The bigger question is how “Trolls 3” will hold during Thanksgiving weekend and beyond when it has to compete against Disney’s “Wish,” which is currently tracking for a $50 million-plus extended holiday launch. “Trolls” has the advantage of being an established family franchise at a time when non-sequel animated films have had a hard time getting off the ground theatrically.

But if “Wish” earns strong word-of-mouth among families and general audiences, that could peel off significant numbers of families from “Trolls 3” during that lucrative holiday weekend and shorten the film’s legs. It has been a while since we’ve seen direct competition between animated films at the box office, and it will be interesting to see if audiences prefer one over the other or if the market is large enough to sustain both of them.

“Thanksgiving” and “Next Goal Wins” will provide more marginal support for theaters, as “Thanksgiving” is tracking for an opening weekend in the mid-teens. Based on a mock trailer created by the film’s director, Eli Roth, for the 2007 double feature “Grindhouse,” “Thanksgiving” will likely appeal to single males intrigued by the tongue-in-cheek appeal of a horror film during Thanksgiving, a juxtaposition that has been mined for years by Christmas horror films from “Black Christmas” to “Krampus.”

Finally, “Next Goal Wins” will get a more limited release this weekend and is projected to open to around $3 million. The true-story sports comedy starring Michael Fassbinder and directed by Taika Waititi got mixed reviews from its premiere at TIFF this year, holding a 47% RT score.

While there will be no “Barbie” or even “Oppenheimer”-sized hits on the horizon, this weekend’s slate, combined with the Thanksgiving slate that includes films like “Wish,” “Napoleon” and “Maestro,” will bring the variety that theaters need to bring in a wider range of moviegoers than a strict diet of franchises can provide.

Theaters will hope that the more modest numbers provided by these films will combine to lift the end-of-year box office to a more sustainable market than seen last year, when the collapse of Disney’s “Strange World” left theaters waiting for weeks until the release of “Avatar: The Way of Water” to restore turnout.

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