Disney's live-action musical Beauty and the Beast is doing monstrous business at the North American box office, where it should waltz past $60 million on Friday alone for a possible opening of $170 million, according to huge returns.
The update of the classic 1991 animated musical, directed by Bill Condon, is destined to set a number of records, including the biggest start ever for a PG title. And if it passes up the $166 million domestic debut of last year's Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, it will land the top March opening of all time, as well as one of the top 10 starts of all time, not accounting for inflation.
Friday's tally will include a mighty a $16.3 million in Thursday-night preview. That's the biggest preview tally of the year so far, the biggest ever for a Disney live-action title, the second-biggest for a PG film and the third biggest ever in March.
Read more: 'Beauty and the Beast': Film Review
The $160 million tentpole, produced by Mandeville Films, should see a nice boost from a full run in Imax theaters, generally known as a haven for fanboys, and not families.
But with PG films booming, Imax is expanding its programming to include such are. Imax worked with Condon on making a special version of Beauty that allows more to be seen on the screen because of a different aspect ratio.
Beauty and the Beast stars Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast, and the cast also includes Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen and Emma Thompson.
The tale follows Belle, who attempts to rescue her father from the castle of a terrifying beast, and instead becomes his captor. But she soon starts to fall for the Beast and the enchanted staff of his castle, who were all put under a spell by a witch.
Beauty is also opening around the world and should earn at least $100 million overseas. It took in a strong $11.5 million on its opening day, debuting as the No. 1 film in all but one market (Slovakia, where it was the No. 1 non-local film). It is also doing well in Russia, despite a restrictive rating slapped on the film after Condon recently revealed that Gad's character, Gaston's sidekick, is gay.
Censors in Malaysia have gone one step further and asked Disney to cut what it deems a "gay moment," but the studio says it won't make any changes.
The only other film opening this weekend is The Belko Experiment, which earned $305,000 in previews. The film is tracking to open in the $4 million range. Written by James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy), The Belko Experiment is an Orion Pictures' low-budget horror thriller which Blumhouse's distribution arm, BT Tilt, is releasing in 1,250 to 1,300 locations.
The film, directed by Greg McLean, follows a group of 80 Americans who are locked in their high-rise office in Bogota, Colombia, and ordered by an unknown voice coming from the company's intercom system to participate in a deadly game of kill or be killed in order to survive.
March 17, 12:20 p.m. Updated with revised weekend projections.