By Pamela McClintock, The Hollywood Reporter
Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling can still cast a magic spell at the box office — although not as big a one sans the Boy Who Lived.
Warner Bros.’ Harry Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, from a script by Rowling, topped the North American box office with $75 million from 4,144 theaters.
Fantastic Beasts, grabbing an A CinemaScore from audiences, is a crucial test for Warners and Rowling as look to expand upon the Harry Potter wizarding world with five new films set decades before the events in Harry Potter and featuring a wizarding world populated by adults.
The $180 million movie, rated PG-13, is also launching around the world this weekend, and should take in $200 million through Sunday.
In the U.S., Fantastic Beasts played notably older than the final two Harry Potter movies, with 65 percent of the audience over the age of 25 compared to 56 percent and 55 percent for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1 and Part 2, respectively. At the same time, there was a large concentration of moviegoers in the 25-35 age range, with 55 percent of Friday’s audience under the age of 35.
It is opening well behind the eight Harry Potter films, based on Rowling’s blockbuster box series, but Warners and some box-office observers stress it is a spin-off. From a script by Rowling, the fantasy-adventure stars Eddie Redmayne as Newt Scamander, a collector of magical creatures who travels to 1920s New York, where several of his creatures get out.
Disney and Marvel’s Doctor Strange continued to wow as it crossed the $570 million mark globally, and will soon overtake fellow Marvel Cinematic Universe title Iron Man ($585 million) after already overtaking serveral other MCU installments. Domestically, it earned $17.7 million for the weekend to place No. 2.
Fox and DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls followed with $17.5 million to jump the $100 million mark domestically and finish Sunday with $116.2 million. Paramount release Arrival placed No. 5 with $11.8 million fro a domestic total of $43.4 million. Universal’s Almost Christmas rounded out the top five with $7 million fro a domestic tally of $25.4 million.
With Fantastic Beasts and holdovers dominating, the three other new films opening nationwide this weekend fared poorly.
Based on early returns, STX’s edgy, R-rated coming-of-age drama Edge of Seventeen opened to $4.8 million for for a seventh-place finish. The $9 million film, earning $1.7 million Friday, had hoped to launch in the $10 million range.
Bestowed with glowing reviews and an A- CinemaScore, Edge of Seventeen stars Hailee Steinfeld as an awkward teen dealing with her friend falling for her brother, and was directed by Kelly Fremon Craig in her directorial debut. It also stars Blake Jenner and Woody Harrelson.
Open Road’s boxing biopic Bleed for This fared even worse with an estimated $2.5 million from 1,459 theaters. Bleed for This stars Miles Teller as Vinny Pazienza, a boxer who attempts to make a comeback after a terrible car accident.
Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is the biggest bomb, earning an estimated $1 million from 1,176 theaters for Sony/TriStar after opening last weekend in New York and Los Angeles. That’s even worse last year’s The Walk, which opened to $1.5 million from 448 theaters. Sony studio chief Tom Rothman made both titles when running TriStar and before being named chairman of Sony’s Motion Picture Group.
Lee’s modern-day war drama was shot with groundbreaking technology that virtually no theater can project without new equipment, so it is playing in a digital format everywhere save for a select few theaters. Billy Lynn grossed $350,000 on Friday.
With Hollywood entering the heart of awards season, several high-profile releases debut in select theaters at the specialty box office this weekend, including Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, from Focus Features, and Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, from Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions.
Manchester, launching in four cinemas in New York in Los Angeles, grossed $241,230 for a location average of $60,408, one of the best showings of the year and the best ever for Roadside. Nocturnal Animals opted for a larger footprint, opening to $493,000 from 37 locations for a location average of $13,321.