Box Office: ‘Fantastic Beasts 3’ Tracking for Soft Opening Weekend

While the domestic box office is showing signs of life after an age of COVID lockdowns, it seems that not every film franchise is being buoyed by a return of theatergoers. “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” Warner Bros.’ latest entry in its prequel series to the “Harry Potter” franchise, is off to a somewhat rocky start, projected to land a record low debut for a Wizarding World film.

The third “Fantastic Beasts” earned $20.1 million on Friday and Thursday night previews from 4,753 North American locations, which marks the lowest opening day figure for a “Potter”-adjacent film. Industry analysts project a three-day opening in the neighborhood of $40 million, with some opportunity for upside.

That’s not exactly the most disastrous result for a theatrical release in 2022, but it’s a disappointing opening for a film franchise that’s supposed to behave like a box office juggernaut. “Secrets of Dumbledore” carries a hefty $200 million production budget, ballooned by COVID-related delays and safety costs. Warner Bros. will have to look to international audiences to give the wizarding sequel a thriving run. “Secrets of Dumbledore” should reach an international total above $175 million through Sunday.

“Secrets of Dumbledore” continues a downward trend for the “Fantastic Beasts” series. The first 2016 entry drew a domestic opening of $74 million, while its 2018 sequel, “The Crimes of Grindelwald,” fell to a $62 million debut. While one could forgive “Secrets of Dumbledore” as a victim of a theatrical landscape that isn’t at its pre-pandemic strength, things aren’t quite that simple. Plenty of sequels released in the past few months have landed bigger debuts than their predecessors, such as “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and last week’s “sonic the hedgehog 2.” It seems that “Fantastic Beasts” doesn’t spark that level of enthusiasm in moviegoers.

Once a promising opportunity to spin further box office gold from the “Potter” name, “Fantastic Beasts” has turned into a headache for Warner Bros. “Potter” author and franchise scribe JK Rowling has faced widespread criticism from the LGBTQIA+ community for her statements on sex and gender identity. And since the 2018 sequel, Warner Bros. has recast the role of the villainous Grindelwald with Mads Mikkelsen, removing original actor Johnny Depp as the actor entered a controversy surrounding domestic abuse allegations. With box office numbers continuing to slip, the studio may have to rethink how it approaches the Wizarding World moving forward.

Directed by franchise regular David Yates, “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore” sees Jude Law returning as beloved Hogwarts leader Albus Dumbledore and Eddie Redmayne reprising his role as magizoologist Newt Scamander. Ezra Miller, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Callum Turner and Jessica Williams also star.

In his review of the film, Variety‘s chief film critic Peter Debruge called “Secrets of Dumbledore” “vastly improved” with Mikkelsen involved, writing that “devotees will likely adore the revelations in store, including a deeper commitment to the tragic love story between beloved Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore and the wizard determined to settle a score with Muggle-kind.” Other critics haven’t been as kind; the film holds a 49% aggregate approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Ticket buyers seem to be more receptive, bestowing “Fantastic Beasts 3” to a “B+” rating on CinemaScore.

Also opening this weekend, Columbia Pictures’ “Father Stu” is projected to earn a five-day total upwards of $7 million from 2,705 locations. The religious film, which debuted on Wednesday, carries a modest production budget of $4 million. Critics have been largely indifferent, with the Mark Wahlberg vehicle landing a 41% approval aggregate rating on Rotten Tomatoes. However, moviegoers have been extremely favorable, grading “Father Stu” to glowing “A” rating on CinemaScore.

Wahlberg produces and stars in “Father Stu,” playing a boxer who turns to the church to become a priest after suffering a muscle disease. The R-rated drama also stars Jacki Weaver and Mel Gibson in supporting roles.

Paramount’s “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” slowed to second place after its booming debut of $71 million. The SEGA sequel is projected to earn $26.5 million in its sophomore outing, dropping 63% from its opening. The family-friendly film should expand its domestic gross to $116 million through Sunday, placing it on track to finish above its 2020 predecessor’s $145 million total (though that run was abruptly cut off by the start of COVID-19 lockdowns).

Speaking of Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe is finding his own box office success outside of the franchise that established him. Paramount’s “The Lost City,” which Radcliffe plays the villain in, should take third at the box office with a projected $5.45 million fourth weekend. The Sandra Bullock-Channing Tatum two-hander will push its domestic cume past $77 million through Sunday.

Rounding out the domestic box office’s top five, the genre mashup “Everything Everywhere All at Once” looks to take fourth with a projected $4.73 million opening weekend. After expanding from a limited run last Friday, A24 added even more locations this weekend — 950, to be exact — and the film looks to drop a mere 22% as a result. Thanks to stellar reviews and strong word-of-mouth, the indie release should reach a domestic gross of $16 million on Sunday.

Finally, Columbia Pictures’ “Morbius” continues to lose its legs at the domestic box office. The latest entry in the studio’s self-branded Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Characters (which also includes Tom Hardy’s two “Venom” movies and the upcoming “Kraven the Hunter”) looks to fall to sixth on domestic charts with a 58% drop from its sophomore outing. The Jared Leto vehicle should suck up a total domestic gross of $64 million through Sunday — a figured buoyed by a $39 million opening.

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