By Joey Nolfi
January 19, 2017 at 09:02 AM EST
Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox, The Weinstein Company

Amid a densely-populated market this weekend, divisive auteur M. Night Shyamalan looks to continue the forward momentum he generated back in 2015, when he drove the low-budgeted, critically-praised genre flick The Visit to an impressive $65.2 million. Though his latest film, Split, is pacing to top the national box office following a chilling promotional campaign, it faces stiff competition from Vin Diesel’s latest action outing, the long-awaited xXx sequel Return of Xander Cage, which storms more than 3,000 theaters on Friday as several specialty releases expand, including Michael Keaton’s The Founder and Annette Bening’s 20th Century Women.

So, will audiences choose Shyamalan or Diesel, or will they spread the love across both newcomers in the days ahead? Here’s what the Jan. 20-22 weekend box office results could look like on Sunday.

1. Split – $20 million

Once touted as the next Steven Spielberg, Shyamalan’s career as a mainstream film director took several hits following his meteoric rise as the mind behind The Sixth Sense, Signs, and Unbreakable. With middling reviews for The Village and Lady in the Water in subsequent years, the filmmaker hit a low point with the critically-savaged thriller The Happening, though he’s since rebounded thanks to a partnership with Blumhouse, which saw the release of the well-received horror romp The Visit in 2015. Similarly made on a micro budget of around $5 million, Split aims to clear its production costs — and even multiply them by more than three times — this weekend, with a first-weekend haul that could cross into $20 million territory.

The film’s creepy premise — a man (James McAvoy) with 23 split personalities kidnaps and torments three teenage girls — lent itself well to the film’s effective marketing campaign and the horror genre itself, which has proven itself to be in the middle of a resurgence in recent months with hits like The Conjuring 2 ($102.4 million), Lights Out ($67.3 million), Don’t Breathe ($89.2 million) and last week’s The Bye Bye Man, which posted an exemplary $15.2 million on a $7.4 million budget.

As mainstream-oriented audiences sift through a cramped January marketplace stuffed with Oscar contenders and commercial crowd pleasers alike, Split opens on around 3,000 screens, and should have no trouble carving a lane for itself at the head of the pack.

2. xXx: Return of Xander Cage – $18.5 million 

Nearly 15 years since Diesel took the reins of what would become the xXx franchise, fans are still hungry for more, and Paramount is satiating their needs with a third installment, directed by Eagle Eye helmer D.J. Caruso. Though the film’s 49-year-old topliner has gone on to front several (far more successful) actioners in recent years (his Fast and the Furious films have grossed around $1 billion in North America alone), the first xXx film marked a notable high point among his budding career as a genre star, and there’s a palpable nostalgia factor fueling audience demand for another entry — enough to push Xander Cage‘s trailer to over 100 million views online.

Judging by early reviews, Xander Cage is a decent, accessible movie that will satisfy both longtime fans and newcomers alike, vitally bridging the gap as a borderline standalone project amid a sea of reboots, remakes, and sequels. Though online buzz has been strong for Xander Cage, it has waned in recent weeks, and Diesel’s clout as a bankable star — without glossy franchise trimmings — has similarly dwindled, as pictures like Babylon A.D. and The Last Witch Hunter underperformed domestically with Diesel in the driver’s seat.

Look for Xander Cage to make anywhere between $16-$22 million from around 3,000 locations this weekend.

3. Hidden Figures – $13.5 million

Theodore Melfi’s timely, empowering historical drama — about three black NASA mathematicians who helped push their country to lofty heights amid the Space Race — proved that crowd-pleasing, socially-conscious fare with diverse casts can lead the domestic box office for two consecutive weeks. Audiences saw Hidden Figures to the tune of $22.8 million across its first weekend in wide release, while its four-day holiday total ballooned to a stellar $27.5 million last week. The prospective awards contender shows no signs of dropping off the chart as its legs begin to sprout mere days before the Oscar nominations announcement, likely propelling the film toward an additional $12-$15 million take by Sunday’s end.

4. La La Land – $10.5 million

Continuing its domination over awards season at large, La La Land — which broke the record for most Golden Globes won by any film in history on Jan. 8 — has extended its reach into the mainstream with each week, climbing the domestic chart all the way to No. 2 (its peak position thus far) last weekend, after a solid limited run in early December. As its awards profile builds, so does La La Land‘s box office potential; with Oscar nominations just around the corner (the film is expected to lead this year’s crop with around 10-12 total nods), Damien Chazelle’s modern musical stands to capitalize even further on its buzz — which has pushed it to $134 million worldwide so far — in coming weeks.

Expect La La Land to dip slightly in the run-up to the Academy’s announcement on Tuesday, as it’s poised to add another $10-$12 million over the three-day frame.

5. Sing – $9 million

Illuminations and Universal struck gold in 2016 with their comedy The Secret Life of Pets, catapulting the animated juggernaut to the same commercial heights they’d reached across several Minions films over the years. The musically-oriented Sing, which features the voices of Scarlett Johansson and Matthew McConaughey, rocked audiences over the holiday period in December, amassing nearly $240 million in the U.S. and Canada since its Dec. 21 debut. Last week, the film took in a further $19 million over the MLK Day stretch, solidifying itself as the premier family title on the market. With little competition, Sing should shed around $10 million for a weekend finish in the $8-$10 million range.

Elsewhere, after an awards-qualifying run in December, The Weinstein Co.’s Keaton drama The Founder expands to approximately 1,100 theaters Friday. The film, an acquisition from FilmNation which revolves around Ray Kroc’s expansion of the McDonald’s fast food empire, has earned glowing reviews from movie critics, as Keaton was, at one point, considered to be a legitimate player in the Academy’s best actor race. As Weinstein’s focus seems to have shifted almost entirely toward its impending Oscar contender Lion in recent weeks, The Founder‘s awards prospects have softened, as its potential to connect with casual moviegoers. With fellow period piece Hidden Figures — which translated strong word-of-mouth into major success in wide release earlier this month — also gunning for audience dollars on a much larger scale, The Founder faces an uphill battle ahead.

Specialty distributor A24 has been on a winning streak as of late, earning major industry accolades (and box office success) for smaller-budgeted films like Room, The Witch, Ex Machina, and Moonlight. Its latest wide release, Mike Mills’ Bening vehicle 20th Century Women, widens its theater count this weekend, entering the mainstream arena after grossing satisfactory numbers since its limited bow on Dec. 28. The film has garnered significant critical praise, however, particularly for the performances of Bening, Greta Gerwig, and Elle Fanning — each of whom have been touted as potential Oscar contenders by awards pundits throughout the season. 20th Century Women is sure to hit with the mature set, with a weekend figure high enough to push it into the week’s top 10.

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