Typically, when a studio is releasing a major superhero tentpole, as 20th Century Fox is this weekend with X-Men: Apocalypse, the other movie houses steer clear to avoid direct competition. There isn't much out there these days that can realistically contend with a comic book adaptation, so unless a project is something small and counter-programming (i.e. Money Monster), the studios space out their films to maximize potential profits. However, that isn't the case over this Memorial Day weekend.
Apocalypse is going up against another big budget film in Alice Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to the 2010 $1 billion hit Alice in Wonderland. It's the kind of head-to-head showdown that's rarely seen in modern Hollywood, and it will be interesting to see how it pans out. If projections are any indication, the mutants of Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters will come out on top, with the Mad Hatter settling for second place.
According to Deadline, Apocalypse is on pace to gross around $80 million over the weekend, with the best case ceiling set at $100 million. The latest X-Men film from Bryan Singer has scored mixed reviews from critics thus far, but it has a lot working in its favor to offset that. The franchise has generated large amounts of goodwill following 2014's X-Men: Days of Future Past (which debuted with $110.6 million), which will increase interest in Apocalypse. In addition, the third film of the so-called "prequel trilogy" sports a star-studded ensemble including the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, and Oscar Isaac (among others). Apocalypse is already a success overseas, so chances are it will draw in large crowds domestically.
For Alice, tracking indicates something in the $55 - $60 million range for the four day weekend. That would be a substantial decrease from its predecessor, which opened to $116.1 million. The reasoning for that could be twofold. Obviously, Looking Glass is going up against some high-profile works, including lucrative holdovers such as Captain America: Civil War and The Angry Birds Movie. In addition, one of the keys to Wonderland's success was the fact that it was the first major 3D film following James Cameron's Avatar, when the technology was still a novelty for modern audiences. Now, 3D is extremely commonplace and is a part of just about every blockbuster. It's no longer a selling point for some viewers, and many were not a fan of Wonderland. Plus, the six-year gap between installments means the demand may not be there anymore.
Oddly enough, Apocalypse is poised to accomplish this despite being at a disadvantage in regard to premium formats. Both are playing in 3D, but Alice will be screened in 380 IMAX, 77 Premium Large Format, and 79 D-box locations. Apocalypse is one of the few superhero tentpoles not showing in IMAX, since Looking Glass scooped them all up. Alice will get a small boost from this, but it doesn't appear to be a sizable one. This is the golden age of comic book films after all, and no matter what else is playing (save for maybe Star Wars), a superhero movie will earn the #1 spot a the box office.
The real winner here is the marketplace. Last Memorial Day weekend was one of the worst in history, with flops Tomorrowland ($42.7 million debut) and Poltergeist ($26.3 million) serving as the main attractions. Apocalypse and Alice could potentially reach $160 million on their own, with the pre-existing holdovers bringing in even more. When it's all said and done, Memorial Day 2016 should be a 55 percent increase from 2015's, illustrating that people still enjoy making the trip to the theater. There just has to be something worth their dollar to see.
X-Men: Apocalypse opens in U.S. theaters May 27th, 2016, followed by Wolverine 3 on March 3rd, 2017, and unannounced X-Men films on October 6th, 2017 (possibly Gambit), January 12th, 2018 (possibly Deadpool 2), and July 13th, 2018 (possible New Mutants). X-Force is also in development.
Alice Through the Looking Glass hits theaters May 27th, 2016.