Box-Office Preview: 'Independence Day: Resurgence' a Huge Wild Card

Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox
'Independence Day: Resurgence'

Whatever the outcome, the sequel to the 1996 blockbuster isn't expected to top holdover 'Finding Dory,' while the forecast for the other new nationwide films — 'Free State of Jones,' 'The Shallows' and 'The Neon Demon' — calls for rough surf.

Roland Emmerich's big-budget Independence Day: Resurgence is a huge wild card as it prepares to roll out in North American theaters this weekend.

From Fox, the sequel opens 20 years after Emmerich's Independence Day — featuring a young Will Smith, who opted to not return for the follow-up — made box-office history in opening 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.

Prerelease tracking suggests Independence Day 2, with a net production budget of $165 million, will kick off in the $45 million-$55 million range from some 4,067 theaters. Other analysts think it could climb even higher, but Fox is erring on the side of caution. This time out, the studio and Emmerich decided to open the movie a week ahead of the holiday, versus on July Fourth weekend itself.

Even if it exceeds expectations in North America, the sequel isn't expected to overtake holdover Finding Dory. The animated family film, from Pixar and Disney, bowed to a record $135.1 million last weekend and could easily earn $70 million or more in its second outing (it also has done record midweek business).

The Independence Day follow-up is set two decades after the events in the first film (including the spectacular destruction of the White House and other iconic landmarks). In the intervening years, humankind has recovered from the devastating alien attack after vanquishing the enemy and creating a global warning system. However, the devious aliens were able to send a distress signal, setting the stage for another attack.

Smith might be absent but a number of other stars appearing in the original film reprised their roles, including Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Judd Hirsch and Sela Ward. Newcomers include Liam Hemsworth, who plays a hot-shot military pilot whose parents died in the first alien attack and who is now dating the former first daughter (Maika Monroe), and Jessie Usher, who plays the stepson of Smith's character, now deceased.

Independence Day 2 also is making a major push overseas, where it begins rolling out Wednesday.

The forecast for the other three new films opening nationwide this weekend — Free State of Jones, The Shallows and The Neon Demon — calls for rough waters.

Director Gary Ross' Free State of Jones, starring Matthew McConaughey, has the most at stake after costing $50 million to make (net). The Civil War drama 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.

STX has aggressively marketed Free State of Jones, and it was a bold move to date the adult drama in summer. The movie has a number of financial partners, reducing the risk for STX, while IM Global is handling the film internationally.

Free State of Jones 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.

While Ross' movie is counting on adults, Sony's The Shallows — starring Blake Lively as a pro surfer in a fight-to-the-death battle with a great white shark — is going after younger moviegoers. However, it may not open to much more than Free State of Jones, although it cost far less to make, or $17 million (net).

Jaume Collet-Serra, who garnered praise for Non-Stop and Unknown, directed The Shallows, which also stars Oscar Jaenada. The horror-thriller is going out in some 2,900 theaters.

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, The Neon Demon will have a much smaller footprint in terms of theater count with 770 locations. Amazon Studios and Broad Green Pictures are partnering on the film's theatrical release, and opted for a nationwide rollout, versus a platform run, following the pic's world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

Neon Demon stars Elle Fanning as an aspiring model who moves to Los Angeles and falls prey to murderous supermodels who will do whatever it takes to feed off of her beauty and vitality. The film, which has drawn mixed reviews, is looking to debut in the $3 million range, and also stars Karl Glusman, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Christina Hendricks and Keanu Reeves.