Is ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ in Trouble, Bound for Second Place in Box Office Debut?

Both Ava DuVernay’s $100 million-plus adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s classic novel and “Black Panther” are looking at $35 million weekends

When “Black Panther” made its record-smashing $201 million start last month, it was expected to easily keep the No. 1 spot at the box office until Disney released its next film, Ava DuVernay’s “A Wrinkle in Time.” But as Madeleine L’Engle’s famous science fantasy adaptation gets ready to enter theaters on 3,980 screens this weekend, that expectation may have been premature.

When tracking for “A Wrinkle in Time” first came out three weeks ago, opening weekend estimates were set at approximately $35 million against a production budget of at least $103 million, according to California Film Commission reports. Despite Disney’s usually intense marketing campaign which included TV and digital spots throughout NBC’s Winter Olympics coverage, tracking has remained stuck in the mid-30 range.

With a start like that, the closest comp for “Wrinkle in Time” would be Disney’s 2015 flop “Tomorrowland,” which opened to $33 million and ended up making $209.1 million against a $190 million budget before marketing costs. While “Wrinkle in Time” cost less to make, it’s not the ideal start for a film directed by an Oscar-nominated filmmaker and starring Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, “Wonder Woman” star Chris Pine and rising actress Storm Reid as the young female lead.

Also, while many Disney releases have had the advantage of good word-of-mouth before release thanks to reviews, the word from advance screenings has been muted. Disney has set the review embargo for “Wrinkle in Time” to drop on Wednesday morning, as opposed to three days before release for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and 10 days for “Black Panther.” Advance screening attendees have been allowed to discuss the film on social media, but response on Twitter has been sparse and mixed.

“This movie’s really going to need good word-of-mouth from the opening weekend crowd for it to do well,” said Exhibitor Relations analyst Jeff Bock. “It’s got Oprah in it, but the trailers have been very confusing and the film is coming out at a time when audiences just haven’t shown a lot of interest in movies based on YA novels.”

“Black Panther,” meanwhile, has posted very impressive holds on its way to making just over $500 million from domestic receipts alone. While most Marvel films have dropped 55-60 percent after their opening weekend, “Black Panther” has yet to suffer a drop of more than 45 percent in a weekend.

With that in mind, “Black Panther”‘s fourth weekend total is expected to fall into the same range as “Wrinkle in Time”‘s opening: $35-40 million. If it ends up topping “Wrinkle” to take the No. 1 spot again, it will become the first movie since “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” to finish at No. 1 for four straight weekends.

Outside of this weekend’s Disney vs. Disney showdown, three other films are getting wide release on 2,400-2,500 screens. Leading them is Aviron’s horror film “The Strangers: Prey at Night,” which is tracking for a $6-8 million start. Also coming out is “Gringo,” an action comedy starring David Oyelowo, Charlize Theron and Joel Edgerton that will be co-distributed by Amazon Studios and STX; along with Entertainment Studios’ action drama “The Hurricane Heist.” Both of those films are tracking for a $3-4 million start.