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Can ‘Mamma Mia’ Sequel Repeat Original’s Runaway Box Office Success?

”Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again“ waves the flag for mid-budget movies

Ten years ago, while “The Dark Knight” and “Iron Man” were ushering us into a new age of superhero blockbuster domination, “Mamma Mia!” was waving the flag for ABBA fans and mid-budget movies alike. Now Universal is hoping to repeat that success with the new sequel “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.”

In 2008, “Mamma Mia!,” which was made on a $52 million budget, earned a modest $27 million opening weekend while serving as counter-programming to “The Dark Knight,” which opened the same weekend.

But while Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” film became a cultural phenomenon and grossed over $1 billion worldwide, “Mamma Mia!” quietly endured for two months at the box office, earning over five times its opening with a domestic run of $144 million.

Overseas, the film found even more success in Australia and Europe — where ABBA have huge fanbases — and earned $465 million internationally for a global total of $609 million. Directed by Phyllida Lloyd, it held the record for the highest-grossing film directed by a woman until “Wonder Woman” broke it last year.

“I don’t think people appreciate how big that movie was, even in the shadow of ‘The Dark Knight,'” said comScore analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “It’s not really often anymore that we see a mid-budget film perform as well as a blockbuster. For a movie with that budget, you need to have some sort of hook or be a genre film like a comedy, a horror film, or a musical. And when you’re a musical based on Abba, that’s about as good a hook as it gets.”

Independent trackers are expecting that “Here We Go Again” will improve on the opening of the original “Mamma Mia!,” projecting an opening of $32-34 million from 3,200 locations while carrying a higher production budget of $74 million. Internationally, the film will open in Australia and most major European markets this weekend except France, (July 25), Russia (Aug. 16) and Italy (Sept. 6), and is expected to do well in all those territories thanks to the enduring popularity of Abba’s music.

Picking up a decade after the first film, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again!” sees Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) prepare for motherhood by learning about how her mom, Donna (Meryl Streep) became pregnant with her while meeting the three men who later came back into her life as Sophie’s potential father.

The ensemble cast sees Cher, Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard, Colin Firth, Julie Walters, Dominic Cooper and Christine Baranski return, with flashback scenes that include Lily James as a young Donna with Jeremy Irvine, Hugh Skinner, and Josh Dylan. Ol Parker (“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”) wrote and directed the film, which has an early Rotten Tomatoes score of 92 percent.

On the edgier side of the release slate is Columbia’s “Equalizer 2,” which sees actor/director tandem Denzel Washington and Antoine Fuqua return in the sequel to the 2014 action thriller. “The Equalizer” opened to $34 million and made $101 million domestically. The sequel is projected to open to slightly less with $27-30 million from 3,300 locations, though Sony is expecting higher weekday grosses.

Opening in targeted release is BH Tilt’s “Unfriended: Dark Web,” a sequel to Blumhouse’s 2015 social media horror film “Unfriended.” Produced on a $1 million budget and depicted through a computer desktop, “Unfriended” made $64 million worldwide off a $15 million opening. “Dark Web” is expected to make half that opening, with trackers projecting a $6-8 million start.

Finally, Lionsgate’s Summit Entertainment and Codeblack Films will send in the Oakland race dramedy “Blindspotting” for limited release this weekend. Earning critical acclaim at Sundance, the film is written by and stars Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal as a black ex-convict trying to peacefully finish his probation period. The film will open on 14 screens in five markets: Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, San Fransisco, and Oakland, where the film takes place. It currently has an 91 percent RT score.