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Aquatic superhero, magical nanny to fill post-Star Wars holiday box office void

The Christmas box office will launch with five debut films over the Dec. 21 holiday weekend, of which two titles will vie for the fattest stockings before another run of wide releases Christmas Day.

Ahead of Christmas, Walt Disney Co. is putting some family-friendly fare under the tree, with "Mary Poppins Returns" competing against an aquatic action hero from AT&T Inc.'s Warner Bros. studio. Forecasts suggest "Aquaman" will outswim Mary Poppins over the weekend.

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"Aquaman"
Source: Warner Bros.

The newest installment in the DC Comics universe could float $84.9 million through Dec. 23 after its Dec. 21 wide release, according to BoxOffice.com's relatively bullish forecast. Variety and Deadline Hollywood agree the film should make more than $65 million.

Such a result would fall short of other recent holiday blockbusters from the Star Wars and Hobbit universes, as well as openings for earlier DC Comics films. "Wonder Woman," released in June 2017, soared to $103.3 million at opening. A list of Warner Bros. DC films compiled by Kagan, a media research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence, saw an average opening of $122.7 million leading to average total revenue of $897.6 million.

But even if "Aquaman" fails make a splash as big as some of his predecessors, the title should still reach profitability. Kagan's comparisons exited theaters with an average profit margin of 34.9% after wide release. "Aquaman" has already collected over $250 million in China against a $200 million budget, and its Dec. 21 U.S. wide release will extend into the Christmas holiday. Deadline forecasts "Aquaman" will collect about $120 million over the five days through the holiday.

Also helping the title, it was not sunk by critics, unlike other DC Comics films, garnering a 68% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, as of about 4:30 p.m. ET on Dec. 20.

The next major contender in the crowded Christmas slate is "Mary Poppins Returns," part of Disney's effort to re-energize some of its most popular classic characters. The film is expected to offer some solid counterprogramming to "Aquaman" as well as a spoonful of sugar for Disney.

BoxOffice.com forecasts the title will collect about $50 million through Dec. 23 after its early Dec. 19 opening, offering a mid-range to Deadline's $35 million weekend forecast and Variety's more bullish $75 million prediction. "Poppins Returns" could reach nine figures through Christmas Day, according to Variety, thought Deadline gives it a muted $75 million long-run forecast. The film opened Dec. 19 to $4.8 million.

Even looking at the five-day forecasts, the new Disney film does not live up to some other recent live-action remakes. The 2017 live-action reboot of "Beauty and the Beast" opened to a whopping $174.8 million, for example. The less bullish forecasts put the "Mary Poppins" sequel more in line with the 2015 redo of "Cinderella," which launched to $67.9 million. "Cinderella" went on to clean up $244.2 million net profits on a 39.2% margin.

"Mary Poppins Returns" opened to plenty of acclaim, with a 78% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, as of 4:30 p.m. ET on Dec. 20.

While the Aquaman and Mary Poppins will clash for the biggest opening of the weekend, three other films will try to sweep up the leftovers.

Offering more direct competition to "Aquaman," Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures will release "Bumblebee" in its Transformers universe of films. BoxOffice.com expects the title to be a low earner at $22 million over the holiday weekend, but Variety and Deadline believe the film could get into the $40 million range, with Deadline calling it a "wildcard" for the post-Michael Bay franchise.

An opening at the top of expectations could put it beside 2017's "Transformers: The Last Knight," which bowed to $44.7 million and went on to collect $107.5 million in net profits, a low point for the franchise. However, with its $135 million production budget, "Bumblebee" will represent one of the least expensive installments in the group. It also represents one of the most acclaimed, with a 95% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Lastly, forecasters do not expect much from the Jennifer Lopez rom-com "Second Act" or Steve Carell-led "Welcome to Marwen." With a forecasted opening shy of $10 million, "Second Act" could still perform well for STX Entertainment, which produced the title for less than $16 million. Forecasts for "Welcome to Marwen" are more mixed, with BoxOffice.com delivering a $4 million prediction but Deadline going as high as the upper single digits. However, with a heftier budget, forecasters agree it will likely be another whiff for Comcast Corp.'s Universal Pictures after "Mortal Engines" bombed in the prior weekend.

"Welcome to Marwen" also bombed among critics, with a 24% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while "Second Act" fared a little better at 52%.

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