April 16, 2024

Oompa loompa doopity doo — here is a box office opening for you. “Wonka” is off to a promising start in North America after earning $14.4 million across Friday and preview screenings. Playing in 4,203 locations, the prequel musical drawing from the twisted Roald Dahl character is also benefiting from golden ticket prices for premium large format auditoriums like Imax.

Heading into the weekend, “Wonka” was projecting a $35 million debut. It’d be a so-so start for the Warner Bros. release, which carries a hefty $125 million production budget and devoted more funds to a month-plus marketing spree (led by star Timothée Chalamet in the first fully-fledged promotional push for a feature since the end of the SAG-AFTRA strike).

The sweeter news for “Wonka” is that it’s coming in north of recent musical offerings that have floundered in theaters, such as Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” ($10.5 million opening) and Warner’s own “In the Heights” ($11.5 million opening). Perhaps it helps that the chocolatier comedy mostly concealed its song-and-dance elements in its promotional material. That bait-and-switch doesn’t seem to have bothered early audiences though, who awarded “Wonka” a solid “A-” grade through research firm Cinema Score.

That reception, along with the film’s positive touchdown among critics, will be imperative to keeping “Wonka” fizzy-lifting through the holiday season, where it’ll hope to find extended play among family audiences. Notably, the film’s main competition includes another Warner Bros. musical, “The Color Purple,” another Warner release in the DC Comics sequel “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” as well as Universal and Illumination’s animated offering “Migration.”

Along with Chalamet, “Wonka” also boasts a sizable cast including names like Olivia Colman, Sally Hawkins, Rowan Atkinson, Calah Lane, Keegan-Michael Key, Paterson Joseph, Matt Lucas, Mathew Baynton and an orange-skinned, CG-compressed Hugh Grant as an Oompa-Loompa. Paul King, who made his name helming the cult-favorite “Paddington” films, directed the prequel.

The remainder of the box office looks to go to some November leftovers, which will begin to face an exodus next week as holiday offerings come tumbling onto screens.

“The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” should rank second once again, projecting another impressive drop below 40% in its fifth week of release. Lionsgate’s dusting-off of the young adult dystopia property has proven to be one of the fall box office’s few bright spots. “Songbirds and Snakes” should push to $145 million through the end of the weekend and has a good shot at inching past $150 million — a benchmark that only 15 other North American releases have achieved this year.

After taking gold in its opening last weekend, Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Boy and the Heron” is now falling to third as rivals project about $5.1 million for the animated epic’s sophomore outing. GKids’ domestic release of the Studio Ghibli production will push its domestic total to $22 million through Sunday.

Another Japanese import is taking fourth, as “Godzilla Minus One” looks to add another $5 million or so through the end of the weekend. The kaiju period piece has now notched more than $30 million in North America — an impressive result for a foreign language feature, even if it stars a time-tested, 50-meter-tall celebrity reptile.

Universal’s “Trolls Band Together” looks to round out the five, as the DreamWorks Animation production projects another solid hold (-34%) for $4 million in its fifth weekend. The jukebox musical will push past a $90 million domestic total sometime during the next week — a $100 million finish would be a stretch considering holiday competition and an imminent digital release on Tuesday. But those Trolls do have gumption. Perhaps their dancing little feet can leg it out.

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