By Joey Nolfi
January 26, 2017 at 08:43 PM EST
Joe Lederer; Ilze Kitshoff

Curiosity killed the cat, and controversy might kill A Dog’s Purpose — with a little help from Milla Jovovich, that is.

The action star’s latest genre venture, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, squares off this weekend against the family-oriented, Lasse Hallström-directed picture, which has endured the brunt of negative publicity following the publication of a video depicting the film’s production, during which a dog trainer seemingly forced a German shepherd to film a water-based scene against the animal’s will.

Though intense social media backlash should be enough to put a significant dent in A Dog’s Purpose‘s potential earnings, even Resident Evil: The Final Chapter seems poised to submit to last week’s champion, the M. Night Shyamalan thriller Split, which premiered to a stunning $40 million across its opening weekend.

As holiday holdovers finally die down and a packed slate of wide releases debut in their place, here’s how the Jan. 27-29 box office battle could play out:

1. Split – $19 million 

Yes, horror films traditionally tend to be front-loaded, but nothing about Split‘s $40 million opening rang traditional. The film zoomed past expectations (and drummed up decent word-of-mouth with a B+ grade on CinemaScore), and it’s likely to repeat at the top of the North American chart with little competition nipping at its heels. Its midweek numbers show promise, with around $9.2 million grossed between Monday and Wednesday, boding well for a sophomore frame figure in the region of $16-20 million.

2. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter – $15 million 

Five films deep, the Resident Evil franchise has already made over $1 billion worldwide, but the question remains: can its final go-round repeat the ace performance of previous installments at the domestic box office?

With a healthy start overseas ($35 million in Japan thus far, the second best number for a series title to date), the $40 million, internationally-driven action-horror flick is shaping up to do decent business stateside, with fan anticipation likely driving die-hard fans (director Paul W.S. Anderson has done a fine job carving out a lane of attraction for new audience members outside the realm of the video game series from which the films are adapted) into the film’s 3,000-plus locations Friday.

While no Resident Evil film has opened below the $17 million mark, there has yet to be a four-and-a-half-year gap between releases, as there is between The Final Chapter and 2012’s Retribution. After a similar five-year hiatus between 2012 and 2017, the Underworld film series — also fronted by a female lead — returned this year to a muted $13 million — far less than its predecessors mustered across their respective debuts, and its performance could be an accurate forecaster of how the Resident Evil film series will bow out in North America.

Look for The Final Chapter to gross around $12-17 million from Friday to Sunday.

3. A Dog’s Purpose – $14 million 

Despite the ballyhoo, industry forecasts still peg A Dog’s Purpose to attract a decent number of families to each of its 3,058 theaters. While animal activists have called for a boycott of the project, mainstream audiences are notoriously unaffected by niche controversy, though the aforementioned, widely-circulated video made several major news outlets’ headlines in the run-up to the film’s release. Still, the film boasts an appealing cast (Dennis Quaid, Josh Gad) and a strong marketing push, which should be enough for casual moviegoers to play fetch to the tune of $13-18 million.

4. Hidden Figures – $12 million 

The women behind the real story of Hidden Figures overcame all odds to drive NASA’s prime positioning amid the Space Race in the 1960s, and the stars of Theodore Melfi’s crowd-pleasing, Oscar-nominated drama continue to leap over hurdles of their own as the film aims to squeeze past the $100 million mark in the U.S. this weekend.

“I have been told my entire career ‘Black women can’t open films domestically or internationally.’ Well, anything is possible,” the film’s star, Taraji P. Henson, wrote on Instagram after the film bowed at No. 1 earlier in January. As Hidden Figures racks up awards attention (the Academy nominated it in three separate categories, including best picture, on Tuesday morning), audience interest should hold steady, with the film likely dropping a mere 20-30 percent for a three-day finish approaching $12 million.

5. La La Land – $11.5 million 

Expanding to even more theaters following its record-tying showing during Tuesday’s Oscar nominations, Damien Chazelle’s contemporary musical La La Land should hold its place within the domestic top five as it maintains a firm grasp on the public’s attention. Having made just over $93 million to date, La La Land has secured a spot as the No. 10 highest-grossing movie musical of all time and will climb higher as awards season progresses.

Expect La La Land to finish the weekend with another $10-12 million.

After seemingly putting all of its resources toward the awards prospects of the Dev Patel-fronted Lion, The Weinstein Company pushes yet another 2016 title into wide release at the top of 2017, one week after expanding its McDonald’s-centered drama The Founder nationwide last Friday. Gold, which stars Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramirez, and Bryce Dallas Howard, hits 2,166 locations this weekend, on the road to an opening that could land anywhere between $3 and $7 million, given the film’s muted marketing presence and minimal online activity (just under 13,000 people have liked the film on Facebook as of Thursday evening).

On the specialty front, Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman — a recent Oscar-nominee — enters a limited number of theaters nearly one year after its Cannes debut last May. The critically-lauded drama joins the Iranian filmmaker’s growing line of awards-verified titles, which also includes 2011’s A Separation, winner of the Academy’s best foreign language film award in 2012.

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