'Fantastic Beasts' casts box office spell with $75M

Mad About Movies: "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them"

Magical movies have hypnotized the box office.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, an adventure that spins off a new franchise within the Harry Potter cinematic universe, made its debut with $75 million, according to comScore. The superhero sorcery-fest Doctor Strange, which topped the charts the past two weeks, slipped to No. 2 with $17.7 million ($181.5 million to date).

"It’s a tale of the battling wizards," says comScore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian, referring to Beasts star Eddie Redmayne and Strange main man Benedict Cumberbatch. "In the post-election period, maybe just the super-fantastic worlds are the ones that people want to escape to."

The Beasts opening is the lowest yet for J.K. Rowling's hugely successful Potter franchise but still ranks as one of the year's 10 best debuts. Other silver linings: Beasts received mostly positive reviews (76% of critics gave it a thumbs up on aggregate site RottenTomatoes.com), while audiences graded it an A on CinemaScore.

It's a great start for Beasts, Dergarabedian says. The movie's domestic numbers, plus an international haul of $143.3 million, "shows the tremendous goodwill built on the back of the Harry Potter brand."

Beasts has a "perfect" pedigree, he says, with Rowling writing the screenplay and Potter director David Yates returning. "(That) carries a lot of weight with the fans who are looking for that street cred," Dergarabedian says.

The animated Trolls is hanging tough, scoring $17.5 million in its third weekend of release ($116.2 million total) — good enough for third place. While not wholly original — Troll dolls have been a thing since the 1960s — "to create a movie musical that’s trippy and fun, it’s pretty genius," Dergarabedian says. "Family audiences really seem to be enjoying that."

Amy Adams sci-fi film Arrival was fourth with $11.8 million ($43.4 million total) and holiday comedy Almost Christmas rounded out the top five with $7 million ($25.4 million total).

New teen comedy The Edge of Seventeen garnered strong critical acclaim (95% on Rotten Tomatoes) and audiences liked it (A-minus on CinemaScore), but the movie made a lackluster debut with $4.8 million. Same went for the Miles Teller boxing film Bleed for This, which could muster only $2.4 million.

The Ang Lee Iraq War drama Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk tanked in its national release, earning just $930,000 ($1.1 million total).

"We went from famine to feast and now we almost have too many options," Dergarabedian says. "How are you going to see all these movies? People have to parse out their time and money. You have to hope that good reviews will win out and audiences will discover them."

The Tom Ford thriller Nocturnal Animals made $494,000 on 37 screens, and Kenneth Lonergan's acclaimed Oscar contender Manchester By the Sea  opened in four theaters with $241,000. The $60,000 per-screen-average bodes well for Manchester going forward, Dergarabedian says. "In the indie world, directors are stars and reviews matter. Audiences are going to seek out those movies and fill those theaters."

Final numbers are expected Monday.


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