Box-Office Preview: Will 'The Huntsman: Winter's War' Be First Flop of Summer?

Courtesy of Universal Studios
'The Huntsman: Winter's War'

'The Jungle Book' is set to clobber the live-action fairy tale, starring Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron, Jessica Chastain and Emily Blunt but no Kristen Stewart (Snow White).

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all at the box office?

The answer isn't likely to be Universal's ambitious prequel The Huntsman: Winter's War, which opens in North America this weekend.

The female-skewing tentpole — continuing Hollywood's obsession with spinning classic animated tales into live-action movies — is tracking for $23 million to $25 million despite a $115 million net budget. And that's less than half of what Snow White and the Huntsman grossed in its June 2012 domestic debut on its way to earning $396.6 million worldwide.

Disney's blockbuster The Jungle Book will no doubt make life tough for Huntsman after opening to a historic $103.3 million last weekend, transforming into an all-audience film despite its family-centric PG rating and earning $338 million to date. Directed by Jon Favreau, Jungle Book is tipped to clobber Huntsman with a weekend take of $50 million-plus.

But even if they will compete for the same eyeballs, Jungle Book isn't Huntsman's only concern. More problematic are withering reviews (it currently stands at 16 percent on Rotten Tomatoes).

The prequel returns Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman and Charlize Theron as the evil sorceress Ravenna. Nick Frost and Sam Claflin also return, while Emily Blunt joins the series as Ravenna's sister, Freya, and Jessica Chastain as the Huntsman's lover, Sara.

Kristen Stewart of Twilight fame played Snow White opposite Hemsworth in the 2012 film, directed by Rupert Sanders, but doesn't appear in the prequel. The actress has a formidable fanbase among younger females, but Universal decided to go in a different direction and focus on an origins story, versus a Snow White sequel.

(There was plenty of drama behind the scenes when Stewart and Sanders apologizing publicly for a romantic affair after compromising photos of the duo were published. Sanders didn't return either to helm the Huntsman spinoff, with directing duties going first-time feature helmer Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, who was visual effects supervisor on the first movie.)

Joe Roth produced Huntsman: Winter's War, which is off to a mixed start overseas, where it began rolling out two weekends ago in select markets to find itself overshadowed by Jungle Book. Huntsman has earned roughly $44 million to date internationally, where it opens in an additional 36 markets this weekend timed to its U.S. launch.

The first weekend in May is still considered the official stat of the summer box-office season, but more and more, Hollywood studios are opening summer-like movies in April since there are only so many slots available in the May-August corridor. Universal led the charge in 2011 in extending summer when debuting Fast Five on April 29.

Financially, Universal reduced its risk on Huntsman by partnering with China's Perfect World Pictures. Also, the studio spent far less on the prequel than it did to make Snow White and the Huntsman, which carried a price tag of $175 million.

Huntsman is the only new movie opening nationwide this weekend. However, a pair of high-profile indie titles will launch in limited runs: Elvis & Nixon, starring Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey, and A Hologram for a King, starring Tom Hanks. Both movies are playing this week at the Tribeca Film Festival. Amazon Studios is partnering with Bleecker Street on the theatrical release of Elvis & Nixon, while Roadside is releasing Hologram for a King on behalf of Saban Films.