‘Secret Life of Pets 2’ and ‘Dark Phoenix’ Vie for Top Spot in Crowded Box Office

Potential Oscar contender “Late Night” also enters the mix

Last weekend was a busy one for movie theaters with three wide releases from major studios, but it doesn’t get any quieter this weekend with the release of two major titles: Universal/Illumination’s “The Secret Life of Pets 2” and Fox/Disney’s “Dark Phoenix.”

“Secret Life of Pets 2” is expected to take No. 1, though with an opening weekend much smaller than its 2016 predecessor. Box office trackers are expecting an opening for the animated movie in the $60 million range, and the studio expects that an opening in the $50 million range would be a strong start. However, the first “Secret Life” earned a $104 million opening en route to grossing $875 million worldwide, second only to “Shrek 2” among non-Disney animated films.

But even if this sequel doesn’t match the original’s box office total, its presence will be welcomed by movie theater owners. While last summer’s box office was strong, “Incredibles 2” was the only major box office force among animated films, though “Hotel Transylvania 3” provided some modest contributions.

“Secret Life of Pets” was key to Illumination becoming a global box office force on the level of DreamWorks and Pixar, expanding the studio’s stable of characters beyond “Despicable Me.” The sequel should have the same overseas potential, grossing $31.6 million in nine markets throughout May, and it should provide even more fuel to keep families coming to theaters along with the usual Disney fare.

Speaking of Disney, “Dark Phoenix” will mark a big moment in that studio’s history, as the “X-Men” film is the first major blockbuster it will release from 20th Century Fox. While Disney has released other Fox films since acquiring its former competitor back in March, including the Christian film “Breakthrough,” “Dark Phoenix” is the first to come from one of the major franchises that Disney sought after to build its already dominant IP stable.

While the horror spinoff “The New Mutants” is still to come, “Dark Phoenix” will be the final film to feature major members of the X-Men like Charles Xavier and Jean Grey before they become a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the coming years.

But the series’ final installment will be a far cry from its box office peak. The film is estimated for an opening of $55 million, which is only slightly better than the series low opening of $53 million earned in 2013 by “The Wolverine.” The studio is projecting between $40-50 million for “Dark Phoenix” domestically in over 3,700 locations.

Long term, “Dark Phoenix” is expected to at best match the global total of 2016’s “X-Men: Apocalypse,” which made $543 million thanks in good part to a $121 million Chinese gross. But even if this era of the X-Men goes out with a whimper, its presence will only add to Disney’s already enormous market share, which currently sits at over 35% with more than $1.5 billion grossed domestically in 2019. With its intensely anticipated slate, Disney is already expected to gross way more than $3 billion this year, but the additional grosses from Fox films could push it close to the $4 billion mark.

Based on the famed “X-Men” comics arc of the same name, “Dark Phoenix” follows Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) as her telepathic and telekinetic powers are heightened following a solar flare. However, the rise in those powers also creates an evil alter ego, the titular Dark Phoenix, which threatens to destroy both the X-Men and humanity.

Written and directed by Simon Kinberg, the film also sees the return of James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Evan Peters to the cast, with Jessica Chastain also starring.

Farther down the charts, Amazon Studios will return to theaters with the limited release of “Late Night,” a comedy about a struggling veteran late-night host who tries to recover her ratings by hiring a woman of color to her all-white, all-male writers’ room.

Critics have been generally positive on the film with a 77% Rotten Tomatoes score thus far, but praise has particularly been heaped on leading duo Emma Thompson and Mindy Kaling, who are getting early Oscar buzz for their respective performances as the seasoned host and her new writer.

“Late Night” will try to turn that into hype into some success similar to that of their 2017 film “The Big Sick,” which grossed a solid $42.8 million. The comedy opens in Los Angeles and New York this weekend, with a wide release on June 14.