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Movie Projector: 'X-Men: First Class' will top box office but may have lowest opening in the super-hero series

June 2, 2011 |  1:34 pm

Xmen
A band of young mutants won't face any deadly rivals at the box office this weekend, but they may still fall short of the mark set by previous "X-Men" movies.

"X-Men: First Class" is the only new film opening nationwide Friday and is expected to top the box office with $55 million to $60 million, according to several people who have seen pre-release audience surveys. Twentieth Century Fox, the studio that produced and is distributing the film, is predicting a more conservative opening of $48 million to $54 million.

Even if it opens at the high end of predictions, "First Class," a prequel that tells the origins of the superhero team in the 1960s, will have the lowest opening of any "X-Men" film since the 2000 original. "X-Men" premiered to $54.5 million but went on to gross $296.3 million worldwide.

It would also be a less-than-impressive start given that Fox and co-financers Dune Capital Management and Ingenious Media spent a hefty total of about $160 million, before tax credits, to produce the picture.

The biggest opening in the franchise came in 2006 with its third installment, “X-Men The Last Stand,” which debuted to $105.8 million and ultimately raked in $459.4 million globally. While that movie, directed by Brett Ratner, made the most money of any film in the series, it was received poorly by critics and left a sour taste in the mouth of fanboys. The ill will may have contributed to the fourth film's tumble at the box office, as 2009’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine" opened to $85.1 million and ended up with $373.1 million worldwide.

Fox executives believe the fifth "X-Men" film will have a smaller opening in part because it does not feature A-list stars like Hugh Jackman, who has played Wolverine in the last four pictures (though he does have a cameo). Instead, the movie has a roster of well-regarded but not broadly popular performers, including recent Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence, British star James McAvoy, independent film actor Michael Fassbender, "Mad Men's" January Jones and Kevin Bacon.

Because the movie tells a new original story, Fox is comparing it to "Batman Begins," Christopher Nolan's 2005 reboot that opened to $48.7 million. Like that movie, reviews for "First Class" have been overwhelmingly positive. [Corrected, 2:35 p.m.: An earlier version of this post referred to "Last Stand" as having overwhelmingly positive reviews instead of "First Class."]

Even if the film gets off to a so-so start in the U.S. and Canada this weekend, it will probably do solid business overseas. The film is opening in 75 foreign territories this weekend, including Brazil, Russia and France.

Hollywood executives will also be closely watching how many moviegoers see "The Hangover Part II" on its second weekend in release. Ticket sales for the original 2009 "Hangover" fell only 27% on its second weekend in theaters, but the sequel will probably take a much bigger fall after its big $86-million opening. Includings its premiere May 26, the movie had grossed $148.9 million domestically through Wednesday.

DreamWorks Animation and distributor Paramount Pictures are hoping that "Kung Fu Panda 2" ticket sales decline only slightly after its so-so $47.7-million opening. People who saw it last weekend gave the animated comedy an average grade of A, indicating that word-of-mouth should be strong.

In limited release, the Weinstein Co. will open "Submarine," about a 15-year-old attempting to lose his virginity, in two theaters in New York and two in Los Angeles. Focus Features will open "Beginners," starring Ewan McGregor as a man who finds out his cancer-stricken father, played by Christopher Plummer, at five theaters in Los Angeles and New York.

-- Amy Kaufman

Photo: (From left) Caleb Landry Jones, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, Nicholas Hoult, James McAvoy and Lucas Till star in "X-Men: First Class." Credit: 20th Century Fox.

“It’s not an either or proposition,” Gallagher said. “It’s both. And that means growth.”
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