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Box office preview: Moana makes waves ahead of top weekend debut

Disney’s animated adventure made a record $15.6 million on Wednesday

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Disney; Jaap Buitendijk

As a crowded slate of wide releases dropped into theaters on Wednesday, the holiday weekend box office is shaping up to be a bountiful one. Disney’s Moana, Warren Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply, Jessica Chastain’s Miss Sloane, Billy Bob Thornton’s Bad Santa 2, and the Brad Pitt/Marion Cotillard vehicle Allied join strong holdovers Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Trolls, and Doctor Strange, all gunning for audience affection as the traditionally lucrative post-Thanksgiving frame approaches. Check out EW’s holiday weekend box office forecast below. 

1. Moana – $68 million ($85 million five-day) 

Before it sets sail atop the crowded holiday weekend, Disney’s Moana has already made a splash at the domestic box office.

The animated epic, featuring Disney’s first Polynesian princess, earned a record $15.6 million across its first day of screenings at 3,875 locations, more than any pre-Thanksgiving opener. With Moana‘s mid-week gross, Disney sets its own bar even higher, as the studio’s Frozen previously held the record with its $15.1 million haul in 2013. 

Moana, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk, and newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, is on pace to match Frozen‘s $67 million wide take, though its totals could push higher as it remains the most prominent animated film in wide release, and the post-Thanksgiving window is typically golden for family-oriented fare. Animated titles that drop between Thanksgiving and Christmas tend to have legs for months, and Moana (which is preceded by the Oscar-qualifying animated short Inner Workings) should perform similarly.

Look for Moana to pull in anywhere between $68-72 million, but don’t be surprised if it pushes higher. 

2. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – $40 million ($57 million five-day)

J.K. Rowling’s first feature screenplay, the Harry Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, earned solid reviews from movie critics last weekend, and the David Yates-directed film grossed an impressive $74.4 million across its first three days in wide release. The newest cinematic entry to the ever-expanding Potterverse pulled in strong mid-week numbers, posting $11 million on Wednesday, even in the wake of Moana‘s rise. That puts the film in the $36-42 million range heading into its sophomore frame, with brand nostalgia and glowing critical reviews backing its bid for a soft decline in the 40-50 percent range this weekend. 

3. Allied – $15 million ($20 million five-day)

Oscar winners Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard appear onscreen together for the first time in Robert Zemeckis’ WWII-era thriller, and audiences responded to the tune of studio expectations, amassing around $2.7 million on Wednesday for a three-day weekend in the mid-teens range. The $85 million picture hits 3,160 theaters for its wide debut, however, and its strong marketing campaign should push it to a five-day total pushing $20 million. 

4. Trolls – $14 million ($19 million five-day)

Though Moana could eat up a decent portion of its potential audience, Trolls, Fox’s animated fantasy, will benefit from 99 percent of the nation’s school children having Thursday and Friday off, meaning more bodies to fill seats in theaters around the country. The film, which features the voices of Justin Timberlake, Anna Kendrick, and Gwen Stefani, should rake in around $14 million across its fourth weekend, tallying $18-19 million for the five-day frame. 

5. Doctor Strange – $13 million ($17 million five-day)

The Sorcerer Supreme should continue his steady descent down the box office chart this week, likely slipping to a three-day number in the $13-15 million range (around $17 million for the five-day). The $165-million production has thus far grossed just under $580 million worldwide, bolstering Disney’s record-breaking box office year even further. 

Outside the top 5, Billy Bob Thornton’s Bad Santa 2 is shaping up for a muted performance in the $6-8 million range for the three-day at 2,920 theaters, after making just $1.6 million on Wednesday. Faring worse, however, is Warren Beatty’s directorial comeback Rules Don’t Apply, which scraped together a paltry $315,000 from 2,382 theaters on its opening day. The film should fare slightly better with mature audiences over the weekend, landing a three-day total in the $3-5 million range.

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