‘Abominable’ expected to lead weekend box office as first animated film of fall season

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The weekend box office is expected to be dominated by “Abominable,” the first animated film of the fall season, that is expected to topple last weekend’s leader “Downton Abbey,” according to forecasts.

Box Office Mojo is expecting the film, made by Comcast Corp.’s CMCSA, -0.11%  Universal, Amblin Partners DreamWorks Animation and China’s Pearl Studio, to garner receipts of just $17 to $21 million, which would still top the $10.3 million opening weekend chalked up by “The Angry Birds Movie 2” in mid-August, the last animated film release.

“Abominable” tells the story of how teenage Yi meets a young Yeti on the roof of her Shanghai apartment building and with two friends, attempts to reunite him with his family on Mount Everest. Along the way, they must escape a wealthy financier and zoologist who want to capture the creature for their own nefarious ends.

The film will be released in 4,242 locations with Pearl Studio acting as distributor in China. It has a 76% rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes and a cast that includes Sarah Paulson and Eddie Izzard.

MKM Partners analyst Eric Handler is expecting the film to gross $19 million, “an especially disappointing debut for an animated title from Universal/DreamWorks Animation,” he wrote in a note to clients.

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Handler is expecting the weekend’s Top 10 films to gross $76 million, down about 18% from the same weekend a year ago. Last year’s Top 10 films chalked up $92 million in receipts, led by Universal’s “Night School” and Warner Media’s T, +0.31%  “Smallfoot” with revenue of $27 million and $23 million.

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“Downton Abbey,” fresh off its $31 million opening weekend, a record for studio Focus Features, is expected to take second place this weekend. The film version of the TV show is expected to garner about $17 million in its second weekend, buoyed by an 84% Rotten Tomatoes score.

The James Gray-helmed “Ad Astra,” a science-fiction film starring Brad Bitt and Tommy Lee Jones, is expected take third place in the ranking with receipts of about $9.7 million, according to Box Office Mojo. That is expected to be followed by “It: Chapter Two,” at $9.0 million and “Hustlers” at $8.7 million.

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Roadsite Attractions, the independent production company backed by Lions Gate LGF.A, +0.98%, is hoping to crack the weekend Top 10 with the release of “Judy,” the Judy Garland biopic starring Renee Zellweger.

The film has an 87% score on Rotten Tomatoes and critics have praised the star’s performance, with Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers describing it as one the best of the year. The film will open in just 461 theaters and is expected to garner $1.4 million in receipts, which would place it just ahead of the $1.3 million opening for “Whitney,” the documentary about the late singer and actress Whitney Houston released last year, that was also distributed by Roadside Attractions, along with Miramax and Altitude Film Distribution.

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MKM’s Handler said a 3.2% rise in quarter-to-date revenue leaves his forecast for 2.5% quarterly growth intact. The analyst is now forecasting growth of a bit more than 5% for the fourth quarter to about $3.1 billion.

“The quarter is likely to start off slow against last year’s record October, with revenue down in the low to mid teens,” he wrote. “November should improve a bit, but the month could still see a low-single-digit decline.”

Fourth-quarter growth will be driven by releases scheduled for December, which is expected to enjoy 25% growth from December of 2018, he said. Highlights include “ (estimated 25% y/y growth) off the strength of Sony’s SNE, -0.58%  “Jumanji: The Next Level” and Disney’s DIS, -0.82%  “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” along with its “Frozen 2.”

Disney shares were down 0.9% Friday, but have gained 18.6% in 2019, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +0.00%  has gained 16% and the S&P 500 SPX, -0.20% has gained 19%.

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