Thanksgiving Box Office: Disney’s ‘Moana’ to Feast on Brad Pitt’s ‘Allied,’ ‘Bad Santa 2’

Brent Lang
Variety

Disney has been drawing a lot of aces lately. From “Doctor Strange” to “Zootopia” to “Finding Dory,” the studio has amassed an impressive streak of blockbusters. “Moana,” its latest animated offering, will continue that hot hand.

The adventure about a girl from the Pacific islands who journeys across the ocean with a demigod will be the de facto choice for families when it debuts over Thanksgiving. The film is expected to sail to the top of the holiday box office, earning $75 million over the five-day period. It will premiere in more than 3,800 theaters, the majority of which will offer 3D showings. Disney didn’t release a budget, but most of the studio’s animated films cost north of $150 million. “Moana” features the voice of Dwayne Johnson and music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of “Hamilton.”

The biggest competition for “Moana” will be the second week of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” the Harry Potter spinoff that debuted last weekend to a hefty $75 million. It could do nearly as much business over the holiday, but will attract a slightly older crowd given its PG-13 rating. Most box office watchers expect the fantasy film to pull in between $50 million to $60 million for the holiday stretch.

There’s not a lot of breathing room this Turkey Day, given that four wide releases will elbow their way into crowded multiplexes. The sheer onslaught of gaudy titles featuring the likes of Brad Pitt and Warren Beatty, to say nothing of the Disney and Potter fans who will be lured to the theaters, will boost revenues, but probably won’t be enough to establish a new record. The previous Thanksgiving holiday high point was set in 2013, as the combination of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” and “Frozen” drove the box office to a massive $294.6 million over the five-day period.

“That would be a tough number to beat,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at ComScore. “There’s a great lineup of movies from a quality perspective, though I’m not sure we can post huge numbers like some of the bigger Thanksgiving weekends.”

In 2013, there were a lot more options for moviegoers with children. This Thanksgiving is more focused on adult ticket-buyers. For starters, there’s “Allied,” an R-rated spy thriller with Pitt and Marion Cotillard adding some sizzle as a husband and wife team of double-crossing agents. The $80 million production was directed by Robert Zemeckis, who could use a hit after his 3D drama “The Walk” flopped last year. It should pull in $20 million for the five-day period. Paramount will release the film across 3,000 locations.

Parents will also likely be steering their kids clear of “Bad Santa 2,” a follow-up to the 2003 cult hit about a sozzled department store Saint Nick. Billy Bob Thornton, who oozed whiskey and invective in the first film, returns as the title character with Kathy Bates taking on the role of his mother. Broad Green and Miramax teamed on the picture, which should make $16 million over the five-day holiday. The very raunchy comedy cost $26 million to make.

That leaves “Rules Don’t Apply,” a romantic drama that represents Beatty’s return to filmmaking after a hiatus of more than a decade. The love story about a two young people who fall in love while employed by eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes is being distributed by Fox. It has been a passion project of Beatty for nearly as long as he’s been in the business. However, tastes have changed since Beatty was making the likes of “Shampoo” and “Reds.” Star power isn’t what it once was and studios are more interested in backing superhero films than movie for grown-ups. To get the project off the ground, Beatty tapped a Rolodex of one-percenters that includes Brett Ratner, Steve Bing, and Steven Mnuchin, one of the rumored candidates to become treasury secretary under Donald Trump. Reviews have been mixed, but Beatty remains a Hollywood legend with a following. Look for “Rules Don’t Apply” to bring in $8 million over its first five days.

For Disney, the success of “Moana” puts the studio tantalizingly close to an industry record. The company has already achieved its best-ever year, and should pass the $6.89 billion high-water mark that Universal established in 2015 over the coming weeks. Not only does Disney have “Moana,” there’s a little film called “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” set to take the Christmas box office by storm. Thanksgiving will be a mere appetizer for the house of Mickey.

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