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Smurfs look to get franchise back on track

As the March dust settles, a trio of family-friendly animated movies will dominate a muted box office going into April.

Expected to again be the No. 1 film during the April 7 weekend, "The Boss Baby" flew by expectations during its debut. The movie about a persistent little executive toddled past middling reviews and expectations as low as $30 million for its opening weekend, dropping $50.2 million in DreamWorks Animation's coffers and well out-earning "Beauty and the Beast," which was favored by forecasters in its third weekend. In the end, "The Boss Baby" contributed to a record March for the movie industry that was driven by "Beast" and "Logan."

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"Smurfs: The Lost Village"
Source: Columbia Pictures

"The Boss Baby" likely will maintain its tiny iron-fisted grip on theaters, with BoxOffice.com forecasting a $28.0 million second weekend. "Beauty and the Beast" is expected to follow behind it, while another animated debut film should scoop up much of the leftovers in third place. BoxOffice.com expects "Smurfs: The Lost Village" to pocket about $14.5 million during its opening weekend. Variety is looking for the blue creatures to open between $15 million and $16 million. TheWrap cites much more bullish estimates, calling for an opening as high as $22 million, while noting Sony Corp.'s internal estimate of $17 million.

With $60 million in production costs, "Smurfs: The Lost Village" was a less expensive title than some of the blockbusters winding their way through theaters. It is also much less expensive than its predecessors, with 2011's "The Smurfs" and 2013's "The Smurfs 2" each costing over $100 million. Variety notes that the most recent Smurfs effort is an attempt to get the franchise back on track. While "The Smurfs 2" did fall short of "The Smurfs," at a 21.7% profit margin compared to 45.2% for the original, the sequel still more than paid for itself.

In fact, a string of middle budget animated titles produced by Sony's Columbia Pictures have had respectable financial success. In a list of similar films, including the two prior Smurfs movies, the average profit margin came to 39.8% on average total revenue of $566.0 million.

The studio has also won some favor with critics with its new Smurfs installment, but improving on its predecessors was not too difficult. The first in the Smurfs franchise settled with a 22% "rotten" score on Rotten Tomatoes, while "The Smurfs 2" posted a dismal 13% "rotten" score. "Smurfs: The Lost Village" had not broken out of "rotten" territory as of 1:30 p.m. ET on April 6, but it was still faring better than its namesakes with a 32% rating.

After "Smurfs: The Lost Village" the forecasts drop off pretty quickly, with most forecasters putting the other two wide release debuts under $10 million.

"Going in Style" is a remake of the 1979 heist comedy featuring a group of fast-witted elderly men, with the cast including distinguished actors Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin and Michael Caine as the crooks. Similar movies have shown mixed results. In a list of comparisons compiled by S&P Global Market Intelligence, including titles like "Last Vegas" and "Masterminds," the average profit margin was a 16.5% loss, with "Masterminds" commanding a 211.7% loss margin. On the positive side, "Red" left theaters with $334.8 in total revenue and 8.5% in the black. "Going in Style" also has the advantage of a frugal budget. At just $25 million in production costs, the debut comes in well below most of its comparisons.

The title, however, also has not scored high with critics; it had a 38% "rotten" score in pre-release reviews compiled by Rotten Tomatoes.

Lastly, Pure Flix Entertainment will drop faith-based title "The Case for Christ." Christian movies tend to be low-budget but positive-profit efforts for studios, with a few exceptions. For example, "Heaven is for Real" left theaters in the black by 25.2% after a $12.2 million production budget. In a list of comparisons compiled by S&P Global Market Intelligence, the average profit margin for similar titles was 14.9%, with just "Woodlawn" leaving theaters underwater by 26.4%.

Forecasters are putting "The Case for Christ" at $5 million or under in its debut weekend, not atypical for low-budget faith-based releases, and it had yet to be scored on Rotten Tomatoes as of 1:30 p.m. ET on April 6.

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