Fantastic Beasts spins magic at the box office

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. (AP)
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. (AP)

Los Angeles — Harry Potter spinoff Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them cast a spell over audiences in its debut, summoning $75m according to studio estimates Sunday and unseating Doctor Strange from the top spot.

Starring Eddie Redmayne and directed by Harry Potter alum David Yates, Fantastic Beasts, a Warner Bros. release, cost around $180m to produce, and is meant to kick off a five film franchise based on author and screenwriter J.K. Rowling's creation.

"It's a real crowd pleaser," said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros.' president of domestic distribution. He noted that the film performed especially well in small to medium-sized towns across North America, and not just in the major markets.

Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst for box office tracker comScore, attributes the solid turnout to the goodwill amassed by the Harry Potter films.

While Fantastic Beasts doesn't quite compare to the opening weekends of the Harry Potter films, which averaged over $91m in their debuts, Goldstein is hopeful for how it will play out over the Thanksgiving holiday when kids are out of school.

Indeed, it was a strong weekend for all-ages films overall in the lead-up to the holiday, with Doctor Strange placing second with $17.7m and Trolls close behind in third with $17.5m. The sci-fi mindbender Arrival took fourth with $11.8m, while the themed comedy Almost Christmas rounded out the top five with $7m.

The success of the top films this weekend didn't leave much room for other new wide releases to find their footing this weekend, however.

Ang Lee's ambitious wartime drama Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk tanked in its expansion from four to 1 176 theaters with a mere $930 000. The film cost a reported $40 million to produce and has netted only $1.1m total, hindered by negative reviews of its revolutionary high frame rate. Last year, Sony had a similarly inauspicious start for The Walk, which was also touted as a must-see technological achievement.

Other more modestly budgeted films also struggled, including the R-rated high school comedy The Edge of Seventeen, which earned $4.8m, and the fact-based boxing drama Bleed for This, which took in $2.4m.

While boxing pics outside of the Rocky films are generally a gamble, despite their abundance in the marketplace, The Edge of Seventeen, was expected to do a bit better. The studio is hoping good word of mouth will drive further returns.

In limited release, the drama Manchester by the Sea, expected to be a big awards player, got off to a decent start with $241,230 from four theaters. It will be expanding in the coming weeks.

"I think there are almost too many options right now," noted Dergarabedian, who expects the five-day Thanksgiving frame to be a record-breaker thanks to new openers like Disney's Moana and audiences looking to catch up on things they've missed.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24