By Brent Lang
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" dominated the weekend box office, debuting to a boisterous $75 million and launching a new cinematic franchise.
It confirms Warner Bros.' high hopes for the property and its decision to back five installments in the fantasy series. The film is a spin-off of the Harry Potter films, but instead of Hogwarts, it unfolds in 1920s New York City and features an entirely new cast of wizards and mythical creatures.
The studio spent $180 million to make the picture, enlisting Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling to write the screenplay and bringing back David Yates, the director of several previous boy wizard outings.
Audiences may have embraced the return to Potter-dom, but they gave the cold shoulder to several new films, among them the boxing drama "Bleed for This" and the Iraq War drama "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk." Both films bombed, with "Bleed for This" eking out an estimated $2.5 million and "Billy Lynn's" mustering roughly $1 million after expanding from four to 1,176 theaters.
Open Road is distributing "Bleed for This," which looks at Vinny Pazienza's efforts to get back into the ring after a car accident. It has a $6 million budget.
Sony is backing "Billy Lynn's" along with Bona Film Group, Film4, and Studio 8. The $40 million is a technological gamble. Ang Lee shot the picture to be exhibited at 120 frames per second in 3D at 4K HD resolution in order to achieve greater clarity and realism. Critics have been divided about the look of the picture, with some faulting it for looking too much like a telenovela. It's something of a moot point, as less than a half dozen theaters have the ability to exhibit the film at the higher speeds.
STX's "Edge of Seventeen" didn't fare much better than the other struggling new releases. The teen dramedy with Hailee Steinfeld only managed to pull in $4.8 million for a seventh place finish. Heading into the weekend, it was expected to gross $10 million. The film centers on a high school girl grappling with the fact that her best friend is dating her brother. It cost $9 million to make.
Second place went to Marvel's "Doctor Strange," which brought in $17.5 million to push its domestic gross to $181.5 million after three weeks in theaters. DreamWorks Animation's "Trolls" took third, earning $17.5 million to bring its haul to $116.2 million.
In limited release, "Manchester by the Sea" capitalized on glowing reviews and Oscar heat to open to $241,230 with a robust $60,308 per-screen average. Amazon bought the film out of Sundance for $10 million and is releasing it in conjunction with Roadside Attractions. Casey Affleck stars as a janitor trying to come to terms with a personal tragedy.
Focus Features also debuted "Nocturnal Animals," Tom Ford's noir-ish thriller, in 37 theaters where it made $493,000.