‘Panda’ to claw its way past ‘Revenant’ this weekend

Above, a scene from "Kung Fu Panda 3." (Photo credit: Dreamworks)

Above, a scene from “Kung Fu Panda 3.” (Photo credit: Dreamworks)

By Ryan Faughnder
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — DreamWorks Animation’s latest installment of its successful “Kung Fu Panda” franchise is expected to top the domestic box-office charts this weekend, unseating Oscar-nominated Leonardo DiCaprio movie “The Revenant.”

“Kung Fu Panda 3” could gross $45 million or more in ticket sales Friday through Sunday in the U.S. and Canada, according to people who have reviewed pre-release audience surveys. Movie studio 20th Century Fox, which is distributing the computer-animated action-comedy, is projecting an opening of about $35 million.

Either way, it should make enough to hold off the DiCaprio survival epic and a crop of newcomers, including the Marlon Wayans spoof “Fifty Shades of Black,” Walt Disney Co.’s “The Finest Hours” and the Natalie Portman western “Jane Got a Gun.”

If “Kung Fu Panda 3” does as well as box-office analysts hope, it would be a welcome success for DreamWorks Animation after the Glendale company’s recent struggles at the box office. It had a hit last year in “Home” but has otherwise had trouble producing commercial winners.

DreamWorks is also betting on the film to do big business in China, where it will also open Friday simultaneously with its American release. “Kung Fu Panda 3” was co-produced by Oriental DreamWorks, a $330-million joint venture that DreamWorks Chief Executive Jeffrey Katzenberg and other partners set up in 2012.

“Kung Fu Panda 3” is already flexing its muscles in China, where limited preview screenings Saturday generated $6.4 million in ticket sales. The film, which was animated in two versions to match the speech in English and Mandarin, cost $140 million to make. AMC Theatres, owned by China’s Dalian Wanda Group, is offering Mandarin-language screenings of the film.

“The Revenant,” also distributed by 20th Century Fox, should continue to show box-office endurance thanks to its 12 Oscar nominations, including nods for best picture, best lead actor (DiCaprio) and best director (Alejandro G. Inarritu).

The picture, which cost $135-million to produce, has amassed $123 million in domestic ticket sales so far.

Open Road Films’ raunchy low-budget sendup “Fifty Shades of Black” is projected to lead the trio of new major movies with $10 million to $15 million, according to analysts, though Wayans’ movies often open higher than tracking surveys indicate. The comic actor is best known for spoofs such as “Scary Movie” and “A Haunted House.”

Meanwhile, “The Finest Hours” is on track to take in about $10 million over the weekend. The Disney movie, produced for about $70 million, stars Chris Pine as a Coast Guard skipper involved in a daring maritime rescue during a 1952 blizzard.

“Jane Got a Gun,” a Weinstein Co. release, is expected to gross around $5 million through Sunday at about 1,200 theaters.

The western endured a long road to the multiplex.

It had originally been expected to hit theaters under the banner of struggling entertainment company Relativity Media, but those plans changed when the company, led by Ryan Kavanaugh, filed for bankruptcy in July.

Lawyer and producer David Boies was able to win back the rights to the movie before Relativity entered Chapter 11 protection, and eventually found a distribution partner in the Weinstein Co.

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