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‘First Man’ Lifts Off This Weekend to Steep Box Office Competition

Neil Armstrong biopic looks for long-term success as ”Bad Times at the El Royale“ and ”Goosebumps 2“ also open against ”Venom“ and ”A Star Is Born“

“Venom” and “A Star Is Born,” both hot off of very strong openings at the box office last weekend, will now serve as tough competition for this week’s pair of big releases, Universal’s “First Man” and Fox’s “Bad Times at the El Royale.”

“First Man” is the followup for director Damien Chazelle after winning the Oscar for Best Director for “La La Land” last year, with Ryan Gosling and several other Oscar winners from his “La La Land” team joining him. But while “La La Land” had a limited December release and a slow rollout through January, “First Man” will be released wide by Universal on 3,600 screens. The studio is projecting an opening weekend of $15-18 million, with independent trackers pushing their expectations up to $20 million.

With a $60 million budget, such a result wouldn’t exactly be the big start that “A Star Is Born” enjoyed with older audiences last weekend, and “First Man” will certainly face a challenge finding a foothold with the prestige crowd, with the Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga film being the talk of the film industry right now. But there is precedent for an awards contender finding success from an Oct. 12 release date: the 2013 Best Picture Oscar winner “Argo.”

Released in fall 2012 on 3,232 screens, “Argo” had a fairly modest opening weekend of $19.4 million, but went on to gross over $10 million for the next three weekends and finished with a domestic total of $136 million and a global total of $232.3 million against a $44 million budget.

That’s the path “First Man” will look to follow through a fall calendar that, in addition to “A Star Is Born,” includes upcoming films like “Bohemian Rhapsody.” One thing “First Man” has going for it is IMAX, which is heavily promoting the film as the company provided Chazelle with its cameras to screen the climactic scenes on the surface of the moon.

Though only a few minutes of the film will be in the IMAX format, critics have praised the sudden transition from 35mm widescreen to 4K digital IMAX as one of the highlights of the film, and both Universal and IMAX are hoping that’s enough of a draw to get moviegoers to pay a little extra for the premium ticket.

Based on James R. Hansen’s detailed recounting of the Apollo 11 lunar mission, “First Man” stars Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong and delves into the personal life and inner mind of the famous yet very reserved astronaut, particularly how the death of his infant daughter impacted him. Claire Foy also stars as Armstrong’s wife, Janet. Josh Singer, who co-wrote “Spotlight” and “The Post,” penned the screenplay.

“Bad Times at the El Royale,” meanwhile, will try to peel off some of the younger moviegoers who went to go see “Venom” this past weekend. Tracker projections are spread out for this noir thriller, but average to a projected opening in the low-to-mid-teens. That result would match the $14.7 million start for director Drew Goddard’s 2012 cult horror classic, “The Cabin in the Woods.”

“El Royale” features an ensemble cast including Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, and Nick Offerman as a group of individuals who check in to the seedy El Royale hotel on the border of California and Nevada. Soon, secrets are revealed and bullets fly as everything goes horribly wrong.

Finally, there’s Sony’s “Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween,” a sequel to the 2015 family horror comedy based on R.L. Stine’s YA book series. Unlike the other two major releases, this film won’t have to compete much for its main demographic, family audiences, as “The House With A Clock in its Walls” is expected to fall out of the top five on the charts this weekend.

The reported $35 million film is projected for an opening in the high teens this weekend, slightly below the $23.6 million that the first film grossed. However, the first “Goosebumps” had a much higher budget at $58 million and grossed $150 million worldwide, putting this sequel in a position to make a larger profit. Jack Black returns to reprise his role as a fictionalized version of Stine, with “It” star Jeremy Ray Taylor, Caleel Harris and Ken Jeong also starring.