Box Office: 'Independence Day: Resurgence' Lands $4 Million Thursday

Claudette Barius/Twentieth Century Fox

Four wide releases are hitting theaters this weekend including 'Free State of Jones,' 'The Shallows' and 'The Neon Demon.'

Twenty years after Independence Day became the biggest film of 1996, its sequel Independence Day: Resurgence landed in U.S. theaters Thursday, earning $4 million in previews. Meanwhile, Sony's shark attack thriller The Shallows started off the weekend with $1.3 million and STX's Free State of Jones took in $365,000.

Fox's big-budget sequel, which sees the return of director Roland Emmerich, is expected to earn in the $45 million-$55 million range from some 4,067 theaters. The film, with a net production budget of $165 million, stars Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Liam Hemsworth, Maika Monroe and Jessie T. Usher. It is expected to be the top earner of the newcomers this weekend, but will likely fall behind Disney and Pixar's Finding Dory, which, after debuting to a record $135.1 million last weekend, could easily earn $70 million or more in its second outing.

The original made box-office history when it opened to nearly $100 million over the Fourth of July holiday. The film grossed $817.4 million worldwide, then one of the top grosses of all time.

The sequel is set two decades after the events in the first film (including the spectacular destruction of the White House and other iconic landmarks), and sees an alien life force returning to Earth to wreak havoc on the world once again.

Independence Day 2 also is rolling out in many foreign markets.

Civil War drama Free State of Jones, starring Matthew McConaughey, is tracking to open in the $8 million-$11 million range from roughly 2,600 locations, although STX Entertainment insiders are aiming for $11 million-$13 million.

Director Gary Ross' passion project, which cost $50 million to make (net), tells the real-life story of Newt Knight, a defiant Southern farmer and Confederate medic who led an uprising and later married a former slave. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Keri Russell and Mahershala Ali also star.

Sony's shark thriller The Shallows, which stars Blake Lively as a pro surfer in a fight-to-the-death battle with a great white shark, cost just $17 million, and is expected to open in the $7 million to $8 million range, although good reviews could help boost its tally (the film has the highest Rotten Tomatoes score of the four newcomers with 74 percent fresh).

Jaume Collet-Serra, known for helming Non-Stop and Unknown, directed The Shallows, which also stars Oscar Jaenada.

Finally, Nicolas Winding Refn's horror film set in the modeling industry, Neon Demon, is also opening wide via Broad Green and Amazon. The film, which had its world premiere at Cannes and stars Elle Fanning as an aspiring model in Los Angeles, has a much smaller footprint in terms of theater count with 770 locations. It's tracking to earn around $3 million.