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Crowded box office proving difficult to predict in 2017

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Crowded box office proving difficult to predict in 2017

Five more films will merge onto a crowded box office freeway during the weekend of Jan. 20, in the wake of bumper-to-bumper film traffic over the long Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

Like a bunch of practical mid-sized sedans, none of the new wide releases stands to break out in a big way. The same was the case in the prior weekend, when "Hidden Figures" cut off the competition with $27.5 million in box office receipts during its sophomore weekend. The best-performing new film during the holiday weekend was "The Bye Bye Man," which collected just $15.2 million. In fact, it seemed to be difficult for forecasters to assess the volume of new competition, pegging "The Bye Bye Man" as a $10 million title before its release. Those same prognosticators expected a strong $20 million-range result from Mark Wahlberg's "Patriots Day," but that film ended up pulling to the shoulder with a meager $13.8 million.

The new slate of films will likely not be much easier to predict, as they all are expected to generate middling results in a crowded field that includes blockbuster "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" and breakout darling "Hidden Figures." However, forecasters are projecting two new releases to come out on top, if only modestly so.

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"Split" follows a kidnapper with 24 separate personalities and his victims.
Source: Universal Pictures

At the top of most expectations is "Split," an M. Night Shyamalan thriller about a kidnapper with multiple personalities, but extreme action title "xXx: Return of Xander Cage" will likely give "Split" a run for its money. BoxOffice.com sets a high bar with a $25.5 million forecast for "Split," while undercutting "xXx" with an $18 million expectation. Deadline Hollywood narrows that gap with expectations for "Split" in the low- to mid-$20 million range and for "xXx" in the high-teens to low $20 millions. Meanwhile, Variety does away with the gap altogether, putting both films at about $20 million for the weekend.

"Split" is firmly in the lead among critics. Rotten Tomatoes gave the Shyamalan film a 78% "fresh" rating where "xXx" was running at a 60% rating as of 4 p.m. ET Jan. 19.

A list of titles similar to "Split" compiled by S&P Global Market Intelligence includes claustrophobic thrillers like "Misery," "Captivity" and "Trapped" as well as horror titles "Saw" and "The Visit." Those averaged out to a 23.4% profit margin on average total revenue of $121.9 million and average production costs of $13.5 million. The comparisons could bode well for "Split" on its modest sub-$10 million budget, according to Variety, and its solid prerelease tracking.

The new "xXx" comparisons are similarly bullish, if a bit more tenuous. The title comes with a much heftier production budget of $85 million, just shy of the original "xXx," which collected almost a half billion dollars in total revenue. However, the first "xXx" opened to $44.5 million, about twice what forecasters are projecting for the newest installment in the franchise. It will look to avoid the fate of "Riddick," which opened to $19 million on a relatively modest $38.3 million budget but went on to lose $18.4 million, penciling out to a 12.3% profit loss.

"Split," "xXx" and popular legacy titles will likely drown out the other new release competition, to The Weinstein Co.'s chagrin. That studio will release "The Founder," wherein Michael Keaton plays the founder of fast-food behemoth McDonald's. Behind "Split" and "xXx," BoxOffice.com expects "Hidden Figures," "La La Land," "Sing," "Rogue One" and several other holdovers to collect more than "The Founder," which it pegs at a $3.5 million opening. The film was originally slated to open in the second half of 2016. "Gotta think that August of last year was probably the better play for this film, which would have given it some time and space to breathe and the ability for its audience to actually find it," Deadline writes, putting the title at a $2 million to $3 million forecast. Variety tosses out an "under $5 million" estimate.

Looking at comparisons, award-winning biopics like "The Blind Side" and "The Rookie" showed solid results, along with Keaton's critically acclaimed effort "Birdman." "The Founder" is also running well with critics at an 83% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. However, audiences just aren't showing much interest, and "The Founder" looks at risk of falling flat.

Two other lesser-known films will go wide (or wider) over the weekend. "The Resurrection of Gavin Stone" and "20th Century Women" do not show up on BoxOffice.com's chart. In a footnote, the site indicates that at a $900,000 forecast, "The Resurrection of Gavin Stone" does not qualify for its 10-title list. Variety touches on faith-based comedy "Gavin Stone" briefly, noting that its studio is hoping to open at $3 million. The Hollywood Reporter pegs it at $1 million.

"20th Century Women" will expand to more than 600 locations from about 20 on Jan. 20. From the studio that delivered cult hits "The Witch" and "Ex Machina," "20th Century Women" is a critical favorite at a 91% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, though it will look to make more headlines to draw audiences and hit profitability.

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