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Box office predictions: Finding Dory scouts the No. 1 spot over 'entral Intelligance

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Pixar; Claire Folger

Swimming into theaters this weekend as Fandango’s top animated pre-seller of all time is Pixar’s long-awaited sequel Finding Dory, and there’s no questioning the hold it has on worldwide audiences.

After the hefty grosses of films like Zootopia, The Jungle Book, and Captain America: Civil War, Disney is looking at yet another 2016 box office giant with its sequel to the 2003 animated hit — one that can set the studio back on course after Alice Through the Looking Glass failed to deliver at the domestic box office.

Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson star in this week’s other new wide release, Central Intelligence, an action comedy that will appeal to older audiences who may prefer to eschew animated fare, though it won’t come anywhere close to Finding Dory‘s numbers.

Here’s how the June 17–19 box office battle could play out:

1. Finding Dory – $100 million 

Though the kiddie crowds that initially flocked to see Finding Nemo in 2003 have now aged well into their teenage years, the film arguably has become Pixar’s defining movie. On top of grossing $339 million during its original run, it has spawned video games, merchandise, and attractions at Disney theme parks in California, FloridaFrance, and Japan

Judging from critical reviews (94 percent on Rotten Tomatoes with an average score of 7.57/10), Finding Dory is a rare case of a sequel matching its predecessor in terms of quality. Still, this is a film that audiences would flock to see whether the reviews were golden or scathing, as the first film has become a cultural touchstone, and star DeGeneres has become a household name. Finding Dory will handily take the box office crown, and has a chance of setting a record with the largest opening weekend for an animated film of all time (unadjusted for inflation) — a distinction currently held by 2007’s Shrek the Third, which grossed $121.6 million in its opening weekend. 

2. Central Intelligence – $30 million 

Though online buzz has been soft for the Kevin Hart/Dwayne Johnson flick, there’s no denying the appeal of Central Intelligence‘s leading men on their own, let alone together fronting a summer action comedy. 

In 2013, Hart’s Let Me Explain stand-up special grossed an astounding $10 million in its opening weekend, averaging $11,450 per screen at 876 theaters. Hart has a healthy track record headlining comedies, including hits like Ride Along and its sequel ($134.9 million and $90.9 million, respectively), Get Hard ($90.4 million), The Wedding Ringer ($64.5 million), and Think Like a Man ($91.6 million). And Johnson can count on a loyal fanbase, though he’s typically more successful with action epics like San Andreas ($155.2 million) and Furious 7 ($353 million) than he is with films sold on his name alone, like Snitch ($42.9 million) and Faster ($23.2 million). 

Teaming Hart and Johnson, who co-hosted the MTV Movie Awards ceremony (up 22 percent in viewership from last year’s event) in April, for a featherweight popcorn movie will likely pay off, as the $50 million New Line film hits around 3,460 theaters this weekend with better-than-average reviews (58 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) for a summer comedy. 

3. The Conjuring 2 – $22 million 

Matching the mammoth gross of 2013’s horror hit The Conjuring, its sequel pulled in $40.4 million in its opening weekend, easily besting its competition. The film continues to play strong with audiences, picking up another $9.1 million on Monday and Tuesday on top of $51 million worldwide for a global total of $101 million over five days. Strong critical reviews and positive word of mouth have made The Conjuring 2 is the must-see horror film of the summer — one fans have been waiting three years to see — and it’s showing no signs of stopping any time soon. Expect The Conjuring 2 to drop roughly 40–50 percent, hanging on stronger than most genre pictures as it offers effective counterprogramming to the family-focused Finding Dory

4. Now You See Me 2 – $12.7 million 

It failed to match the opening weekend gross of its forerunner, but Now You See Me 2 held its own against a crowded weekend of sequels (The Conjuring 2) and action epics (Warcraft), debuting to a solid $22.4 million across its first three days of release.

What made the box office run of the original Now You See Me so impressive was the film’s ability to sustain audiences’ attention, remaining in the top 10 for six consecutive weeks on its way to earning $117.7 million. Though audiences haven’t turned their backs on it entirely — its A- grade is in-line with the first film’s rating on CinemaScore — the sequel faces a tougher road ahead. Expect Now You See Me 2 to fall a bit harder around 40–50 percent as wide releases like Finding Dory and Central Intelligence further complicate the overstuffed mainstream buffet amid an industry landscape that has so far been unkind to sequels in general.

5. Warcraft – $10 million 

Though it’s doing phenomenal business overseas, breaking records in China on its way to $308 million worldwide, Warcraft stumbled with domestic audiences, pulling in a soft $24.2 million during its opening weekend in North America, on a $160 million budget.

Despite titanic global numbers thus far, the fact remains that Warcraft is still a video game adaptation, and game adaptations have traditionally been front-loaded performers that often drop significantly during their second weekend of release. Warcraft will likely do the same, given its poor critical reviews and lukewarm B+ grade on CinemaScore.

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