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Box office preview: Can ‘The Meg’ chew off a monster debut?

Aug 09, 2018

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - The dog days of summer are upon us.

And no, not just because “Dog Days,” the canine comedy starring Finn Wolfhard, Nina Dobrev, and Vanessa Hudgens, opens on Wednesday. Unless “Mission: Impossible - Fallout” remains exceptionally strong in its third outing, it looks like a low-$20 million debut from Warner Bros.’ big-budget shark thriller “The Meg” will be enough to nab the top slot at the domestic box office.

Will “The Meg” be worth the wait? Estimates show the action feature about a prehistoric Megaladon shark is targeting between $20 million and $22 million when it opens on over 3,900 screens. That’s not a promising start for a movie that’s been in development for over two decades and now carries a hefty $150 million price tag. Even so, Warner Bros. isn’t sweating just yet. “The Meg,” directed by Jon Turteltaub, is a co-production with China, meaning the studio is banking on big returns overseas from a simultaneous opening in the Middle Kingdom this weekend.

The movie follows Jason Statham, Rainn Wilson, and, in an effort to bolster its Sino appeal, Chinese star Li Bingbing as a group of scientists who attempt to stop the 75-foot beast from terrorizing a beach. Ah, summer.

It hopes to follow in the footsteps of another film engineered for international appeal, Dwayne Johnson’s “Skyscraper.” Universal’s action adventure launched in North America with a tepid $24 million, but made almost double that its opening weekend in China ($48 million). To date, it’s generated a $215 million abroad, and only $64 million in the U.S. and Canada.

Meanwhile, Spike Lee is hoping to capture the zeitgeist with his timely Cannes Grand Prix winner “BlacKkKlansman.” The crime drama, with a debut that coincides with the first anniversary of the deadly Charlottesville rally, is targeting $8 million to $10 million at 1,500 locations. That would be Lee’s best opening by far since 2006’s “Inside Man” launched with $28 million. His latest outing, “Chi-Raq,” picked up $2.5 million during its limited theatrical run ahead of an Amazon release.

Jason Blum and Jordan Peele co-produced the Focus Features title, which tells the true story of black detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), who goes undercover -- with the help of Jewish cop Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) -- to infiltrate the Colorado Springs chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Critics are calling “BlacKkKlansman” a return to form for the director, praising it as Lee’s best movie in years.

Also bowing in wide release is Sony’s “Slender Man.” It didn’t take quite as long as “The Meg” to make it to the big screen, but its gestation was certainly rocky. The low-budget horror pic could open anywhere from $8 million to $16 million, as the genre can be difficult to track. Sylvain White directed the supernatural thriller based on the internet legend of the boogeyman-like creature who traumatizes children. “Slender Man” stars Joey King, Jaz Sinclair, and Julia Goldani Telles.

At the specialty box office, Sundance titles “Skate Kitchen” and “Madeline’s Madeline” are opening in limited release. The former, directed by “The Wolfpack” helmer Crystal Moselle, features Jaden Smith, Rachelle Vinberg, Dede Lovelace, and Nina Moran, and follows a female skater crew. The latter stars Molly Parker and Helena Howard as a director and a young aspiring actress who spearhead a new project.

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