Minions expected to drive summer box office as other franchises falter

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LOS ANGELES — Film franchises are having a chilly summer at the box office. “Transformers: The Last Knight” stalled out, “The Mummy” got buried, and “Alien: Covenant” drifted off into space.

Now it’s up to the yellow Minions of “Despicable Me 3” to help cure the malaise.

The cartoon comedy is expected to gross $90 million to $100 million in the United States and Canada this weekend, according to people who have read audience surveys, which would make it one of the top summer openings this year.

A strong launch could boost summer ticket sales that are down 7 per cent this year compared with the same period last year. Other than superhero movies “Wonder Woman” from Warner Bros. and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” from Disney, the season’s biggest movies have mostly failed to live up to expectations. The fifth “Transformers” film, for example, grossed a weak $69 million debut in the United States and Canada.

Elsewhere at the multiplex, two R-rated original films will seek grown-up moviegoers: Edgar Wright’s action flick “Baby Driver” and New Line’s parents-gone-bad comedy “The House”.

Anticipation for the next “Despicable Me” is high, according to analysts. A strong debut for “Despicable Me 3”, the latest in the computer animated series from Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment, would be the latest success for Illumination, which had a huge hit last summer with “The Secret Life of Pets”. However, it’s not expected to reach the $116 million the 2015 spinoff “Minions” grossed in its first weekend.

Illumination has proved a formidable competitor in the crowded animation business by making successful movies that cost about $75 million to produce — considerably less than Pixar and DreamWorks Animation films. The gibberish-speaking, pill-shaped Minions have proved inescapable marketing devices, taking over New York cabs and the stars on Amazon’s customer review system. The tiny henchmen propelled “Minions” to more than $1 billion in global receipts.

“Despicable Me 3” again stars Steve Carell as the voice of criminal mastermind Gru, as well as his long-lost twin brother Dru. The film also features the voices of Kristen Wiig and Trey Parker.

As the cartoon sequel dominates, “Baby Driver” will test moviegoers’ appetite for a well-reviewed, high-concept action comedy. The latest from British director Wright, about a young getaway driver (Ansel Elgort) who needs to constantly listen to music to overcome chronic tinnitus and do his job, is expected to gross $15 million to $22 million domestically in its first five days after opening on Wednesday.

That would be a solid debut for the movie that cost $34 million to make after factoring in rebates from filming in Atlanta. The movie, from Media Rights Capital and Sony Pictures’ TriStar unit, marks a relatively large commercial debut for Wright, best known for quirky spoofs such as “Shaun of the Dead” and “The World’s End”.

Meanwhile, New Line Cinema and Village Roadshow Pictures are aiming for a $12 million opening for “The House”, starring Amy Poehler and Will Ferrell as parents who start an illegal casino to send their daughter to college. R-rated comedies have struggled for attention this summer amid the big-budget action at the multiplex. Audiences recently gave the cold shoulder to Scarlett Johansson in “Rough Night” and Amy Schumer in “Snatched”.

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