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‘Deadpool’ Drives White-Hot 2016 Box Office Past $2 Billion

Domestic grosses are running 7 percent ahead of record 2015, lifting movie chains’ stock and forcing analysts to revise projections upwards

The outsized success of “Deadpool” has powered a stronger-than-expected first quarter for moviegoing, and forced analysts to revise upward their projections for the 2016 domestic box office.

Grosses for the quarter topped $2 billion on Tuesday, according to box-office tracker comScore. That’s the fastest the domestic box office has hit that mark since 2010, the year “Avatar” was driving record box-office receipts.

Total domestic grosses for 2016 are currently at $2.056 billion, according to comScore. That is a little more than 7 percent ahead of last year, which was at $1.917 billion at a comparable stage and went on to become the biggest in history at $11.1 billion.

Twentieth Century Fox’s R-rated “Deadpool,” starring Ryan Reynolds as a surly superhero, has been the biggest surprise. It has taken in $315 million in less than four weeks domestically, and even more than that — $365 million — overseas. The film is bearing down on $700 million worldwide. That’s quite a return for a movie with a $65 million production budget.

Dreamworks Animation’s ‘Kung Fu Panda 3,” which is also distributed by Fox, is the second-leading contributor with $135 million in domestic grosses and Universal Pictures’ “Ride Along 2” is the quarter’s third-highest grossing film with nearly $90 million. Returns from Christmas 2015 openers “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “The Revenant” have also helped.

Disney Animation’s “Zootopia” is at $85 million after just five days in release, including a $75 million opening weekend, best ever for an animated film in March. With not much competition in the family market over the next few weeks, its haul is sure to rise significantly and further boost the quarter.

All this has caught the eye of Wall Street and investors, and the top four U.S. movie theater chains — AMC, Regal, Cinemark and Carmike — have seen their shares increase by an average of 26 percent since Jan. 19. That’s evidence enough for B. Riley analyst Eric Wold, who on Tuesday raised his share price targets for the sector’s top firms.

“Other than the downgrade of Carmike from ‘buy’ to ‘neutral’ on Tuesday, driven by the proposed AMC acquisition offer, we are reiterating our ‘buy’ rating on the group and taking up our price targets on AMC, Cinemark, the Marcus Corporation and Regal General Cinemas, by an average of 11 percent.”

On Wednesday, Cinemark shares closed at $33.38, Carmike was at $29.84, AMC was at $28.44 and Regal shares finished at $20.81.

Still, one quarter doesn’t make a year, and it’s worth noting that nearly all of 2015’s top grossing films — including “The Force Awakens,” Universal’s “Jurassic World” and “Minions” and Disney’s “Avengers: The Age of Ultron” — were released after the first quarter.

“This is a tremendous start,” said Exhibitor Relations Co. senior analyst Jeff Bock, “but I don’t know how long we’ll be able to maintain this pace. I don’t see anything in April that is going to match the success that ‘Furious 7’ had last year.”

Universal’s cops-and-criminals action epic opened on April 3 and took in $353 million domestically last year, and eventually hit $1.5 billion worldwide.

The film most likely to put up the biggest numbers in the immediate future is “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which rolls out on March 26 via Warner Bros. is tracking for an opening in the $140 million range.

“If it can get even reasonably good reviews, that one could hit $300 million,” said Bock, “but I think the overall year will come down to how well this summer goes, and this summer is all about sequels.”

Among them are Disney and Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War” and “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” Universal’s “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” and Fox’s “X-Men: Apocalypse,” all of which arrive in May.

Warner Bros.’ “The Conjuring 2,” Lionsgate’s “Now You See Me 2,” Disney’s “Finding Dory” and Fox’s “Independence Day: Resurgence” highlight June. And Sony’s “Ghostbusters” remake, Paramount’s “Star Trek Beyond” and Universal’s new Jason Bourne thriller open in July.