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‘American Sniper’ expected to hold down No. 1 spot at box office

By Saba Hamedy
Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES – Despite three new releases, “American Sniper” will likely hold down the top spot at the box office.

The war drama shattered several box office records and surpassed tracking expectations over the busy four-day Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. In its second weekend in wide release, the film could add between $40 million to $50 million, according to people who have seen pre-release audience surveys.

That would again put it far ahead of the batch of films in the crowded marketplace. Of the new releases, Universal Pictures’ low-budget psychological thriller “The Boy Next Door” will likely fare the best, premiering to as much as $15 million. Lionsgate’s “Mortdecai,” which stars Johnny Depp, could pull in $10 million to $12 million. Family film “Strange Magic” could also open to as much as $10 million.

Clint Eastwood’s film, which cost Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow about $58 million to make, is adapted from the Chris Kyle autobiography of the same name. It follows the story of Kyle (Bradley Cooper), a Navy SEAL known as the most lethal sniper in American history. It co-stars Sienna Miller.

With its six Academy Award nominations, including best picture, the film has generated a lot of buzz from critics and audiences. The movie received a 73 percent positive rating from critic site Rotten Tomatoes and an A-plus grade from audience polling firm CinemaScore.

“The Boy Next Door,” which cost just $4 million to make, follows Claire Peterson (Jennifer Lopez), a teacher who is seduced by teenager Noah (Ryan Guzman). It is the latest micro-budget collaboration from Universal and Blumhouse Productions, following “The Purge” franchise and “Ouija.” Tracking suggests “The Boy Next Door” will play strongly with women and Latino audiences.

Lopez hasn’t appeared on the big screen since January of 2013, when she played in the action-crime film “Parker” alongside Jason Statham. With its $7-million debut, the film marked the actress-singer’s worst film launch since the 2003 box office flop “Gigli.”

“Mortdecai” is based on the 1970s Kyril Bonfiglioli comic novels. Depp stars as the quirky art dealer and part-time rogue Charlie Mortdecai, who tries to recover a stolen painting. The film co-stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor and Olivia Munn.

Although the Lionsgate OddLot Entertainment release has star power, Depp’s latest films have been box office flops. “Transcendence” premiered to a meager $11.2 million in April. “The Lone Ranger” famously tanked with a weak opening of $48.9 million in July of 2013.

Leading up to the release, Lionsgate pushed a six-month Twitter campaign using the handle, “@PartTimeRogue.” The marketing campaign also included 20 national broadcast and talk show appearances and a national promotional campaign celebrating Mortdecai’s mustache with The Art of Shaving.

Meanwhile, “Strange Magic” will compete with “Paddington” to lure in the same younger demographic. The voice cast for the goblin and elves film includes Kristen Chenoweth, Maya Rudolph and Evan Rachel Wood. The computer-animated film is produced by Lucasfilm and distributed by Walt Disney Co.

In limited release, Focus Features will distribute “Black Sea” in four theaters.

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