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Thinking outside the box office: 'The Jungle Book' swings into otherwise lifeless box office

Sometimes it takes a little boy raised by wolves to teach thegrown-ups how to get things done.

Mowgli, the iconic scrappy starring character of "The JungleBook," will swing into a box office littered with unloved titles. The biggestof the returning films, "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," will continueits disappearing act over the April 15 weekend, likely bringing in less than $10million. Critical ratings for that title remained poor, with a 28% "rotten"score on Rotten Tomatoes as of 3:30 p.m. ET on April 14.

The superhero flick was earlier beaten by Melissa McCarthy'snew comedy "The Boss," which during the April 8 weekend collected$23.6 million in opening revenue, at the high end of forecasts and a notch above the haul for "Batman v Superman,"which garnered $23.4 million in its second weekend. "The Boss" was alsopummeled by critics,showing a 19% score on Rotten Tomatoes as of 3:30 p.m. ET on April 14.

In fact, the only "fresh" title in the group of filmsalready in theaters going into the April 15 weekend was "Zootopia." Everyother legacy title scored at 51% or below on Rotten Tomatoes.

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The Jungle Book
Source: Disney

"Zootopia's" position at the top of box office ratings— with a whopping98% "Certified Fresh" Rotten Tomatoes score — bodes well for "TheJungle Book," another Walt DisneyCo. film that features animals front and center. With a similarly strongcritical response, Disney hopes the jungle tale can muster as much financial momentumas "Zootopia" as well.

However, most forecasters are putting "The Jungle Book"next to another Disney reboot, 2015's "Cinderella." That film saw a domesticdebut gross of $67.9 million, in line with forecasts for "The Jungle Book."DeadlineHollywood expects the classic tale to collect in a range of $67 million to $75million. Varietyis looking for a debut gross of about $70 million, noting that if it hits the $75million mark it would match "Zootopia" for the third best opening of theyear. BoxOffice.comis forecasting more of a breakout for "The Jungle Book," pinning a highestimate of $81 million onto the title.

Whatever the opening rake, it seems Disney will be on its wayto the bank by the end of "The Jungle Book's" theatrical run. The productionbudget for the film was about $175 million, which puts it on the high end of a listof five similar movies compiled by SNL Kagan. The average budget for that groupwas $146.8 million. But most of the films being compared to "The Jungle Book"— like "Cinderella," "Alice in Wonderland" and "Maleficent"— had no problem cutting profits. Those three left theaters at net margins of 41.3%,52.2% and 43.6%, respectively.

Looking at a more negative comparison, the 2015 prequel to thePeter Pan story, "Pan" from Warner Bros., was a flop, generating only$15.3 million at opening for a $152.1 million production budget. The movie wenton to post a negative margin of 101.8% by the time it left theaters. However, "Pan"seems like a more far-fetched comparison to many forecasters. It is not a Disneytitle, and it received terrible reviews, garnering a 26% onRotten Tomatoes. Meanwhile, "The Jungle Book" was running at a 93% rating as of 3:30p.m. ET on April 14.

Disney won't be the only studio looking to leverage past successinto more dollars today. Warner Bros. will bring back the story of the little barbershop-that-couldwith "Barbershop: The Next Cut," and forecasters are predicting a strongperformance.

While the film will not likely reach near the heights of "TheJungle Book," it should be a tidy little money-maker for the studio. BoxOffice.comdelivers the low end of estimates, forecasting a $19 million opening weekend; Variety bumps it up a notch with a $25 millionforecast; and Deadline takes it over the top, offering a range that touches the$30 million mark.

Those estimates would put the third title in the series, whichbows 12 years after the prior installment, at or above its predecessors. "Barbershop"and "Barbershop 2: Back in Business" saw openings of $20.6 million and$24.2 million. Those titles went on to collect net profits with margins of 50.3%and 37.6%, respectively.

The series has received generally favorable reviews, with thefirst title taking an 82% "Certified Fresh"rating from Rotten Tomatoes. The sequel slid a little in reviewers' eyes, settlingat 68%. The newest Barbershop film is back in form, posting a very strong prereleasescoreof 88% as of 3:30 p.m. ET on April 14.

Lastly on the list of new releases is a Kevin Costner flick,"Criminal," which is getting some fairly positive buzz despite bad reviewsand solid competition. BoxOffice.com is projecting "Criminal" to collectjust $6.5 million. Variety takes a morebullish tone with a forecast range of $7 million to $9 million. Deadline comes inwith a firm $9 million estimate.

Deadline noted that Costner's other recent movies have consistentlycollected at or above $12 million, and "Criminal," which follows the storyof a death row inmate enlisted to stop an international conspiracy, is getting goodword-of-mouth commentary. However, it is running up against two very competitivetitles, and it is being lambasted by critics. The film had a 14% "rotten" rating asof 3:30 p.m. ET April 14.

While Costner's draw may be predictable, "Criminal"is by no means a sure bet for Summit Entertainment LLC. A group of similar thrillersincluding "Non-Stop," "Safe House" "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,""3 Days to Kill" and "Run All Night" averaged a profit marginin the red by 4.2%.

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