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'Strange World' & Other Newcomers To Be No Match For 'Wakanda Forever' Over Busy But Soft Thanksgiving Weekend

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Though Black Panther: Wakanda Forever looks to top the charts in its third weekend, possibly hitting $350 million by Sunday after passing $300 million on Tuesday, the four big Wednesday releases for the long Thanksgiving frame are all set to shake up what has been a mostly limp box office. Strange World from Disney, Devotion from Sony, The Fabelmans from Universal, and Bones and All from United Artists Releasing (the latter two expanding from just a handful of screens) make this one of the busiest weekends of the year in terms of new releases. We may not see impressive performances from any of these titles, but the slate should be enough to keep the overall box office above $100 million for the third weekend in a row, the first time this has happened since July (in fact, the past two weekends were the first time since July there were even two in a row). This will also be the first weekend in over a month with two titles above $10 million and could be the first weekend since July where two films gross over $20 million, and it could be the first time since August the entire top five is above $5 million. None of this is to say this will be a great or even good Thanksgiving weekend, but it's an improvement over much of the fall.

Of the new releases, the biggest opening will come from Walt Disney Animation Studios' Strange World, which opens in 4000 theaters. The old fashioned sci-fi adventure is about a family exploring a mysterious planet, and it features the voice talents of Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Jaboukie Young-White, Gabrielle Union, and Lucy Liu. The market is ripe for a new animated film, with no significant toons since July's DC League of Super-Pets, and a big animated title from the House of Mouse has practically become a new Thanksgiving tradition, with a Disney or Pixar animated release every November for the past decade barring 2020. At 75% on Rotten Tomatoes, the reviews suggest Strange World is a worthy if not exemplary addition to the catalogue, but the box office looks to underwhelm.

Last year's Thanksgiving weekend release Encanto was the softest opener for Disney Animation in over a decade (barring Raya and the Last Dragon which released deeper in the midst of the pandemic), taking in $27.2 million for the three-day and $40.5 million for the five-day. It finished with a domestic cume of $96.1 million, getting kneecapped by the Disney+ availability just a month after its release to hit the streamer in time for Christmas, a fate which might also befall Strange World. Though the box office climate is healthier than it was a year ago, early numbers on Strange World are underperforming Encanto. Keep in mind Encanto got a boost from a huge Latino turnout, making up nearly 60% of the audience in the opening weekend, though that's certainly not the full story for why the numbers here are lagging. Strange World may not make it past $20 million for the three-day and $30 million for the five-day, which would be unimpressive milestones even if they were met.

As for Strange World's international outlook, expect a softer showing than usual with a number of markets out of play. France is a key one, with Disney sending it straight to Disney+ as a way of bypassing the country's lengthy release window mandates. We'll never know how much money is left on the table theatrically here, but for what it's worth, Encanto grossed $24 million in France out of its $160 million international total. There are also many countries where Disney has decided not to submit the film to censors owing to a major LGBTQ character in the film. The most significant of these markets is China, where it may not have gotten a release anyway, but there is also the Middle East and much of West and East Africa, Southeast Asia, and South Asia (notable exceptions here include India and Thailand), not to mention the continued absence of Hollywood releases in Russia. Of these markets where Encanto released but Strange World is not, Encanto made just under $25 million (and that's not including the $24 million from France). The film's production budget comes to $135 million, so the outlook here isn't great.

Much less is expected of the adult titles, all expected to fall in the single digit millions for the three-day and possibly even for the five-day. Yes, the box office is in a better place than a year ago, but it doesn't look like any of the new adult titles will top last Thanksgiving's House of Gucci, which opened to $14.4 million for the three day and $22 million for the five-day and ultimately grossing $53.8 million. That's hardly a smash, but it was the best showing for an adult title in the Omicron-variant impacted winter. This year, that'd be a lucky outcome for any of the new adult titles.

The Korean War film Devotion, a biopic about the first African American aviator in the Navy, could take third as it opens at 3400 theaters. The film is headlined by Jonathan Majors and Glen Powell (in his second aviation flick of the year) and has a domestic release from Sony. Critics like the film (77% on Rotten Tomatoes), and the real world content makes it stand out from the other big budget spectacles in theaters right now, but it's hard to imagine it has a gross worthy of a big budget war epic.

Also competing for third place is Bones and All, which sees Call Me by Your Name director Luca Guadagnino reteam with Timothée Chalamet for a cannibal road trip romance which also stars Taylor Russell and Mark Rylance. The film opened in five theaters last Friday and grossed $137k through Tuesday. It's another critically acclaimed work from Guadagnino (85% on Rotten Tomatoes), but it's unclear how much mainstream appeal this has. Chalamet fans could give it a boost, though, and with a $20 million budget the stakes aren't as high here as the weekend's other releases.

Finally, there's the expansion of Steven Spielberg's autobiographical family and film-making story The Fabelmans, which expands to around 600 theaters after playing in four theaters for two weeks (through Tuesday it has grossed $330k). This is one to play through the awards season, given the rave reviews (93% on Rotten Tomatoes) and plenty of Oscar buzz, and the appeal could be broader than many of the other awards hopefuls on the market. Still, the $40 million budget is large for an adult drama in this climate, and though Spielberg has seldom struggled to spin box office gold, we may be in for another West Side Story, which had a very soft $10.6 million opening and $38.5 million cume last winter.

If all of that wasn't enough, there's also the one-week engagement of Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery in 638 theaters. Netflix won't be releasing numbers, but it could give the other, wider new releases a run for their money.

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