Box-Office Preview: 'Kung Fu Panda 3' Prepares to Capsize 'The Finest Hours'

Courtesy of DreamWorks Animation
'Kung Fu Panda 3'

Spoof 'Fifty Shades of Black,' starring Marlon Wayans, and Natalie Portman's 'Jane Got a Gun' also open Friday.

Po the panda will have no trouble topping the box-office chart in his return to the big screen.

Kung Fu Panda 3, set to open Friday in roughly 3,900 theaters, is expected race past $40 million in its North American debut, easily enough to capsize the competition, including Disney's Coast Guard adventure-disaster film The Finest Hours, starring Chris Pine and Casey Affleck. Bullish observers believe Kung Fu Panda 3, the first animated event film of 2016, has a strong shot at crossing $45 million, but DreamWorks Animation and Fox are being more conservative.

The threequel opens nearly five years after Kung Fu Panda 2 debuted over Memorial Day weekend in 2011, launching to roughly $47.7 million for the three-day frame and $53.5 million for the four days. (The first Kung Fu Panda bowed to $60.2 million in June 2008.)

The voice cast sees the return of franchise stars Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Lucy Liu, Jackie Chan and Seth Rogen, while Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda 2) shares directing duties with Alessandro Carloni. New additions to the voice cast include Bryan Cranston, Kate Hudson and J.K. Simmons.

This time out, Po (Black) reunites with his biological father (Cranston) and travels with him to join other pandas at a secret sanctuary, where he's arranged to be married to Mei Mei (Hudson). But Po doesn't fit in, and to make matters worse, he and his cohorts soon find themselves battling an evil spirit terrorizing all of China.

Kung Fu Panda 3 was produced by DWA and DreamWorks Oriental, with backing from the China Film Group. Hopes are high for the movie's chances in China, where it scored an impressive $6.4 million in Saturday previews last weekend. Wall Street analysts are already predicting that the movie will be a big win for Jeffrey Katzenberg's DWA on the global stage following several high-profile misses for the company.

The big miss this weekend is destined to be The Finest Hours, which recounts the real-life story of the Coast Guard's heroic efforts to save the crew of two oil tankers sheared in two during a fierce storm off Cape Cod in 1952. Ben Foster, Holliday Grainger, John Ortiz and Eric Bana also star in the film. Finest Hours will play in some 3,000 locations, including a berth in Imax theaters.

Tracking suggests the pic, directed by Craig Gillespie, will have trouble grossing more than $10 million in its first weekend, despite a $70 million budget (Disney, home of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, can certainly weather the loss). Finest Hours is based on the 2009 book by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman.

The adventure-disaster film could be beat by Fifty Shades of Black, the parody of Fifty Shades of Grey starring Marlon Wayans and produced by IM Global. Open Road Films is distributing Fifty Shades of Black in the U.S., where it likewise is expected to open in the $10 million range. The comedy, co-starring Kali Hawk and costing a modest $5 million to make, will roll out in more than 2,000 theaters.

The weekend's fourth new offering is Gavin O'Connor's Jane Got a Gun, the long-delayed Western starring Natalie Portman, Joel Edgerton and Ewan McGregor. The $25 million film will have a much smaller footrpint than the other new movies, with a theater count of roughly 1,200.

Still, the forecast is looking grim for Jane, which is likely to open to $3 million or less. The movie has faced numerous challenges along the way, including having to find a new home when Relativity Media filed for bankruptcy. The Weinstein Co. is releasing the film on behalf of the producers, including attorney David Boies, who is friends with Harvey and Bob Weinstein.