Weekend Box Office: ‘Pacific Rim: Uprising’ Beating ‘Black Panther’ With Muted $23M-Plus

Elsewhere, MGM and Paramount’s family film ‘Sherlock Gnomes’ and Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Unsane’ are struggling to find pre-Easter love.

The bots are looking a bit rusty.

Legendary and Universal’s big-budget release Pacific Rim: Uprising may have the distinction of being the film to finally unseat blockbuster Black Panther atop the box office, but the big-budget tentpole may not open to much more than $23 million in its U.S. debut, according to early Friday returns.

Stomping into 2,850 theaters, Pacific Rim 2 is on course to gross $9 million-plus on Friday, including $2.4 million in Thursday previews. The first Pacific Rim, released in summer 2013, grossed $3.6 million in previews on its way to a domestic launch of $37 million.

Pacific Rim 2 is expected to be a far bigger player overseas, where the $150 million film is opening day-and-date in most major markets, including China (Legendary East has sole distribution duties in the Middle Kingdom). Early estimates show the film off to a strong start in China, where it should zoom past $50 million by Sunday.

The first Pacific Rim, directed by Guillermo del Toro, earned a sizable $309.2 million overseas in 2013, including $111.9 million in China. Domestically, it topped out at $101.8 million after a $37.3 million bow.

This time out, the human-piloted bots go up against otherworldly monsters of mass destruction. John Boyega leads the cast, with Steven S. DeKnight helming in his feature directorial debut. Legendary and Universal greenlit the sequel prior to Legendary getting new leadership and a fresh infusion of funding. Legendary put up the majority of the production budget.

In its sixth weekend, Black Panther is expected to earn between $17 million and $18 million. Sometime on Saturday, it will pass up fellow Marvel film The Avengers ($623 million) to become the top-grossing superhero film of all time in North America, unadjusted for inflation.

Among the glut of new offerings on the marquee, MGM and Paramount’s new animated family film Sherlock Gnomes looks to earn $3.3 million for a muted $12 million debut from 3,662 theaters.

A sequel to Gnomeo and Juliet (2011), Sherlock Gnomes features the voices of returning castmembers James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Stephen Merchant and Ozzy Osbourne, plus Johnny Depp as Sherlock Gnomes, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Watson and Mary J. Blige as Irene.

The story follows Gnomeo and Juliet as they call upon the famous detective, Sherlock Gnomes, to find out why garden gnomes all over London, including the inhabitants of their beloved garden, have going missing. The movie, directed by John Stevenson, continues to roll out internationally after launching in a handful of markets last weekend.

Sony’s faith-based label Affirm opens Paul, Apostle of Christ in 1,400 locations. The film is on course to gross roughly $2 million on Friday from 1,473 theaters for a $5 million-$7 million debut. 

Directed and written by Andrew Hyatt, Paul, Apostle of Christ stars Jim Caviezel, Olivier Martinez, Joanne Whalley, John Lynch and James Faulkner. The film faces formidable competition in holdover I Can Only Imagine, which opened to a rousing $17.1 million last weekend. In its second weekend, I Can Only Imagine could earn $10 million or more for Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate.

It remains to be seen whether Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane, a psychological horror-thriller shot with an iPhone 7 and reportedly costing a mere $1.5 million to make, can beat romantic drama Midnight Sun.

Unsane, starring Claire Foy (The Crown), is projected to gross roughly $1.2 million on Friday from 2,023 theaters for a $3 million-$5 million weekend. Bleecker Street and Soderbergh’s Fingerprint Releasing are handling the film, which stars Foy (The Crown) as a troubled businesswoman who lands in a mental institution after she’s stalked by her former boyfriend.

Juno Temple, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah, Aimee Mullins and Amy Irving co-star. The pic had its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in February.

Midnight Sun, the fifth new movie opening nationwide this weekend, likewise looks to open to $3 million-$5 million. Playing in 2,173 locations, the movie is directed by Scott Speer and stars Bella Thorne, Patrick Schwarzenegger and Rob Riggle. Open Road/Global Road is distributing the movie, which was financed by the Boies/Schiller Film Group.

At the specialty box office, Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs prances into 27 theaters in select markets across the country. Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum and Greta Gerwig are among the voice cast of Anderson’s stop-motion animated adventure about a boy and his faithful pet out to stop a canine genocide.

Isle of Dogs, rated PG-13, debuted at Berlin, as did Final Portrait, which Sony Pictures Classics will open in New York and Los Angeles. Stanley Tucci directed the period drama, which stars Armie Hammer as James Lord, the American art writer painted by Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush).

March 23, 12:20 p.m. Updated with revised weekend estimates.

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