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New 'Black Panther' challenger rises from 'Pacific Rim'

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New 'Black Panther' challenger rises from 'Pacific Rim'

The weekend of March 23 may be the time "Black Panther" finally gives up its seat at the top of the box office, but after the previous weekend, bets are coming off the table.

Challenging the big cat is "Pacific Rim Uprising," the second in the action-packed Pacific Rim franchise this time from Comcast Corp.'s Universal Pictures, which is gearing up for a handy beat against a crowded debut lineup. BoxOffice.com forecasts the new sci-fi title to collect $25 million, while The Hollywood Reporter says $25 million or less. Variety gives "Uprising" a little upside with a wide range of $22 million to $29 million.

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"Pacific Rim Uprising"
Source: Universal Pictures

Those all come in generally above "Black Panther's" forecast, which lands around $15 million to $18 million for its sixth weekend. Walt Disney Co.'s superhero flick has had an impressive tear through the turnstiles, surprising some by outperforming the previous weekend's "Tomb Raider" debut. Even if "Pacific Rim" upsets "Black Panther's" winning streak, the black cat has already had the good fortune of becoming the seventh movie in history to pass $600 million domestically, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The Pacific Rim movies are shaping up to be big investments that have just squeaked out returns. The 2013 original opened to only $37.3 million against a budget of $194.9 million, but with muted marketing costs Warner Bros. managed a 12.7% profit margin on $545.7 million in total revenue. The debut film will face a similar hurdle for its new distributor, with the film costing $150 million, according to Box Office Mojo. The new iteration will also need to overcome a less forgiving critical response. It was running a 45% "rotten" rating, compared to its predecessor's "fresh" rating of 71%, as of 11:30 a.m. ET, March 23.

Appealing to a younger audience, Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures will offer animated title "Sherlock Gnomes," which potentially could be the second-most trafficked debut film of the weekend. BoxOffice.com gives the kids' comedy/mystery movie a chance at $14.5 million. Variety offers another wide forecast of $13 million to $18 million. Hollywood Reporter calls for a result in the low- to mid-teens, but notes the potential for upside.

A list of other quirky animated films compiled by Kagan, a media research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence, showed generally reliable results with an average profit margin of 22.1%. A similarly sized debut, "Smurfs: The Lost Village," opened to $13.2 million and exited with $38.8 million in net profit.

Faith-based film "Paul, Apostle of Christ" will also open this weekend, with forecasts ranging from $2 million to $7.5 million. Forecasters may be feeling a little more confident about religious titles after the prior weekend saw "I Can Only Imagine," based on the making of a popular Christian song of the same name, launch well past expectations to a $17.1 million opening.

Still, "Paul, Apostle of Christ" comes in a field of troubled comparisons, according to Kagan, with an average of five similar titles seeing a $26.5 million opening gross, total revenue of $293.2 million and $94.1 million in net profits. However, the profit margin of the group only landed in positive territory due to the 2004 blockbuster "The Passion of the Christ." The other comparisons exited in the red.

Two other wide but small releases will round out an extensive debut slate: "Unsane" and "Midnight Sun."

The former is a horror-thriller shot entirely with an iPhone 7 and directed by Steven Soderbergh, but some forecasters only expect it to collect about $3 million, with Hollywood Reporter providing a bullish range with $6 million at the high end. But given the film only cost about $1.5 million, it should work out for indie label Bleecker Street. Critics will also provide some tailwind, as "Unsane" was running a solid 79% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, as of publication time.

Finally, forecasters put the young adult romantic drama "Midnight Sun" in the same general range as "Unsane" and "Paul, Apostle of Christ." Some of its Kagan comparisons, most notably "The Fault in Our Stars," performed well from a profitability perspective, but they generally opened much higher than forecasts for "Midnight Sun."

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