Will ‘Shazam!’ Herald the Arrival of Another Superhero Box Office Star?

Warner Bros. will bring one of DC’s lesser known heroes into the spotlight as “Pet Sematary” also hits theaters

The second of this spring’s superhero films is about to arrive with Warner Bros./New Line’s “Shazam!” which will see DC try to replicate Marvel Studios’ continued ability to transform their lesser known superheroes into blockbuster icons.

For now, independent trackers are keeping their estimates relatively low at around $50 million, with WB projecting $45-50 million from 4,260 screens. By comparison, the 2015 Marvel film “Ant-Man” opened to $57 million in the middle of the summer. But “Shazam!” comes in with a lower production budget: $100 million compared to $130 million for “Ant-Man.”

The ceiling for “Shazam” will be lower that most other superhero films, including DC’s last film, the $1.1 billion “Aquaman.” Unlike that film’s aquatic superhero, the Shazam character hasn’t been seen in a previous film and cannot build off of pre-existing moviegoer interest. Nor is it connected to an overarching storyline like “Captain Marvel” is, as Warner Bros. is moving away from cinematic universe-building for DC’s foreseeable future.

That means “Shazam!” will need word of mouth to strike hard and fast. So far, the reception has been stellar, with critics giving the film a 93% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Warner Bros. also partnered with Fandango to hold an advance screening on March 23. The screenings grossed $3.3 million — higher than the $2.9 million advance screenings for “Aquaman” — but more importantly, the film stoked rave responses from moviegoers, allowing the film to get a head-start on building casual audience interest.

That will be essential as “Shazam!” has just three weeks as the hottest superhero movie in theaters before “Avengers: Endgame” arrives and takes over both the global movie market and the pop culture conversation. Between that limited window and the relative lack of familiarity with its lead hero, anything above $500 million would be considering a big success for “Shazam!”

Directed by David F. Sandberg, “Shazam!” follows foster child Billy Batson (Asher Angel), who is chosen as “Champion of Eternity” by an ancient wizard (Djimon Hounsou) and granted the ability to transform into the superhero Shazam (Zachary Levi). With the help of his disabled foster brother and superhero fanatic Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), Billy learns to master his powers and takes them out for a joyride but is forced to get serious when his powers attract the interest of the twisted industrialist Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong).

Also being released this weekend is Paramount’s “Pet Sematary,” the latest Stephen King novel adaptation. With Universal’s “Us” entering its third weekend, horror audiences will be split between two well-reviewed films, as the bleak “Pet Sematary” currently has an 88% Rotten Tomatoes score. Tracking has the film making $25-27 million this weekend, with Paramount projecting $20 million.

Directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer, “Pet Sematary” stars Jason Clarke as Dr. Louis Creed, the doomed patriarch of a family that discovers a cemetery that can return anything buried in it back from the dead…at a terrible price. John Lithgow and Amy Seimetz also star.

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