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'Venom' readies big box office bite

After a summer of superheroes, Sony Corp.'s Columbia Pictures is betting moviegoers want something a bit darker for the fall season.

Diving into the narrow stable of Marvel comic book characters the studio has licensed, Columbia is releasing "Venom," a figure best known as a villain from the Spider-Man franchise. In the new film, Tom Hardy stars as investigative journalist whose body becomes the host of an alien symbiote. Together, the man and the alien organism combine to form a violent super alter-ego: Venom.

The movie has a couple of points in its favor, including the star power of Hardy and Spider-Man fans' familiarity with the Venom character. According to BoxOffice.com, Venom is one of Marvel's most popular anti-heroes.

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"Venom"
Source: Columbia Pictures

On the other hand, "Venom" is also earning negative reviews, having tallied a 28% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes as of about 11:30 a.m. ET on Oct. 5. A CNN review said the film "makes a mess of the tone, staggering from horror-tinged nastiness to split-personality comedy" resulting in a "not-so-Marvel-ous misfire."

A review from the Associated Press was kinder, noting that while the tonal shifts in "Venom" are jarring, the movie does win points for originality. "It's not every movie that tries, however awkwardly, to marry ghoulish body horror with a goofball buddy comedy that happens to take place in the same body. These are the sorts of things we did in the '80s," the AP said.

All in all, BoxOffice.com expects "Venom" to earn an opening weekend gross of $50 million to $75 million. The Hollywood Reporter projected an opening gross between $57 million and $65 million, but noted Sony is predicting a more conservative debut closer to $55 million.

Such a performance would be in line with the $62.0 million opening earned by the 2012 reboot "The Amazing Spider-Man." That movie went on to earn a total domestic gross of $262.0 million and a profit margin of nearly 34%, according to comparison data from Kagan, a media research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Notably, the biggest opening gross on record for October stands at $55.7 million, earned by "Gravity" in 2013, meaning that if "Venom" performs as expected, it could quickly become the new record holder for the month.

Competing against "Venom" for box office dollars the weekend of Oct. 5 is the latest remake of the musical drama "A Star is Born." Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures Inc., the film stars Lady Gaga as an unknown singer-songwriter, while Bradley Cooper plays her mentor and love interest.

The story of "A Star is Born" is well known, as the movie was first made in 1937 with Janet Gaynor and then again in 1954 with Judy Garland. A little more than 20 years later, it was again remade in 1976 with Barbra Streisand. But the new film hopes to set itself apart both with the unexpected pairing of Cooper and Gaga and its pre-release awards season buzz.

The film has earned a 93% "certified fresh" rating from Rotten Tomatoes as of 11:30 a.m. ET on Oct. 5, with the site's critics' consensus being that the movie benefits from "appealing leads, deft direction, and an affecting love story."

Between the strong reviews and the power of two leading stars, BoxOffice.com expects the film to earn an opening gross between $40 million and $60 million for the weekend. The Hollywood Reporter was far less bullish, predicting a $30 million opening, which would still mark a strong start for a film that cost $40 million to make.

Comparisons for "A Star is Born" are difficult given the title's long remake history, but recent musicals have not generated huge opening weekends. However, "Walk the Line," the 2005 biopic about Johnny Cash earned an opening gross of $22.3 million and a total domestic gross of $119.5 million. That movie earned a profit margin of 48%, according to Kagan data.

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