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Villainous holdovers take box office hostage in 'Countdown' to Halloween

The dark fairy Maleficent's power over U.S. moviegoers could propel Disney's latest sequel to its second weekend at No. 1 in the domestic box office charts, despite a trio of new releases.

"Maleficent: Mistress of Evil" underperformed expectations with its $36 million opening in North America over the Oct. 18 weekend. Even so, The Walt Disney Co. film got the last laugh over Warner Bros.' "Joker," which it pushed from the top spot. Heading into the Oct. 25 weekend, "Mistress of Evil" is expected to easily fend off a slate of new films with opening projections mostly below $10 million, leaving open the possibility that "Joker" will remain at No. 2.

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"Countdown"
Source: STX Entertainment

Projections for STX Entertainment's horror release "Countdown" and Sony Corp./Screen Gems' action thriller "Black and Blue" run neck-and-neck, though BoxOffice.com gives the edge to "Countdown" in the run-up to Halloween. The site predicts "Countdown" will draw $8 million over the Oct. 25 weekend versus $7.2 million for "Black and Blue." That compares to projections of nearly $19 million each for holdovers "Maleficent" and "Joker," with the Disney fairy flitting just ahead of Batman's nemesis.

Variety predicts both "Countdown" and "Black and Blue" will stay in the seven-figure range over their debut weekends, though the trade publication notes a few more bullish estimates indicate either film could hit $10 million. Variety notes that both "Maleficent" and "Joker" seem poised to stay firmly ahead of new releases, with weekend box office takes in the mid-teen-million range.

"Countdown," a film about a phone app that predicts the user's time of death, is positioned to capture a similar audience as "Blumhouse's Truth or Dare" in 2018 or "Happy Death Day" in 2017. Both low-budget horror releases turned a profit, ending with margins of 22.2% and 37%, respectively, according to Kagan, a media market research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence. Those films started much stronger than "Countdown," however, with opening grosses of $18.7 million and $26 million.

"Countdown" is not scoring well with critics: The film had a 27% "rotten" rating on review aggregator RottenTomatoes.com as of 9 a.m. ET on Oct. 25. "Truth or Dare" scored even lower after its release, at 16%, while "Happy Death Day" scared up a more lively 71% "fresh" rating.

Film comparisons for recent movies with dirty cop themes like "Black and Blue" are more mixed. Global Road Entertainment's "Triple 9" and "Sleepless" both lost money after opening below $10 million in 2016 and 2017. Fox Searchlight's "Street Kings" netted a profit margin of 12.7% after opening to $12.5 million in 2008. Critics are mixed on "Blue and Blue" as well, giving the film a 50% "rotten" rating on RottenTomatoes as of 9 a.m. ET Oct. 25.

The weekend's smallest new release, "The Current War," is earning the best reviews, with a 62% "fresh" rating on RottenTomatoes. The film, which depicts an early corporate battle over the first U.S. electrical systems, is finally hitting theaters after a two-year delay related to its original association with distributor Weinstein Company LLC and disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. A recut version of "The Current War" by director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon is opening with new distributor 101 Studios, which reportedly paid $3 million for domestic distribution rights to the film. BoxOffice.com predicts "The Current War" will open to $3.9 million. Variety estimates the opening could be closer to $3 million.

An opening below $10 million led to losses for other recent biopics. "The Founder" distributed by Weinstein Co. lost net $32 million after opening in 2017 to $3.4 million. "Steve Jobs" from Universal lost even more in 2015, though it also cost more to produce.

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