By Ryan Faughnder
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Christianity and the occult are set to collide at the box office, with the faith-based movie “Risen” and the indie horror flick “The Witch” both opening this weekend. But neither is expected to pose a challenge for “Deadpool.”
That Ryan Reynolds action comedy about a foul-mouthed mercenary is expected to gross $55 million to $60 million this Friday through Sunday in the U.S. and Canada.
Over the long Presidents Day weekend, “Deadpool” amassed $150 million in domestic ticket sales ($132 million in its first three days). That easily made it the biggest opening ever for an R-rated film in North America.
“Deadpool” has already grossed more than $300 million worldwide, an impressive feat given its relatively low production budget of $58 million.
The violent, vulgar twist on the superhero genre benefited from the untapped fan base for the crimson antihero and a clever viral marketing campaign that kept moviegoers excited until opening weekend.
The continued strength of “Deadpool” means that there will probably be a four-way race for second place among “The Witch,” “Risen,” the sports drama “Race” and the DreamWorks Animation holdover “Kung Fu Panda 3.”
Sony Pictures’ Affirm label will court the faithful with its biblical epic “Risen,” which cost about $20 million to make and features a cast that includes Joseph Fiennes of “Shakespeare in Love.” “Risen” tells the story of two Romans trying to find out what happened to Jesus’ body after the crucifixion when his tomb is discovered empty.
Analysts expect the movie to collect $10 million to $15 million through Sunday. Faith-based films are notoriously hard to predict at the box office, but those that put religion front and center tend to find a sizable audience.
Affirm Films, which specializes in Christian movies, had an unexpected hit with 2015’s “War Room” that grossed nearly $68 million in North America. But its 2014 family-friendly comedy “Moms’ Night Out” flopped.
On the opposite end of the religious spectrum, “The Witch,” distributed by specialty film company A24, will make a play for horror genre fans. It’s the widest release ever for A24, the distributor best known for critically acclaimed pictures such as “Ex Machina” and “Room.”
A favorite from last year’s Sundance Film Festival, “The Witch” follows a family in 1630s New England besieged by forces of black magic. It was written and directed by Robert Eggers and acquired by A24 for $1 million.
A24 is releasing the film in 1,800 theaters and targeting its marketing specifically to horror buffs, so box-office performance is difficult to forecast. According to people who have reviewed pre-release audience surveys, “The Witch” could gross more than $10 million in ticket sales through Sunday.
But A24 is trying to keep expectations low and says an opening of just $3 million or higher would put the low-budget picture on a path to profitability.
Meanwhile, “Race,” a biopic of the track and field hero Jesse Owens, will get its release from the Universal Pictures specialty unit Focus Features.
Stephan James of “Selma” plays the famed African-American athlete who faces off against the racism of Adolf Hitler’s Germany during the 1936 Olympics. “Race” should do $8 million to $12 million in domestic ticket sales through the weekend.