Bryan Singer's X-Men: Apocalypse earned a strong $8.2 million in Thursday-night previews at the North American box office, where it's tipped to win the long Memorial Day weekend ahead ofAlice Through the Looking Glass, which took in $1.5 million in previews.
Apocalypse performed on par with X-Men: Days of Future Past, which grossed $8.1 million on its first Thursday night.
In terms of the full holiday weekend, bullish box-office observers think Apocalypse could near $100 million in its domestic debut, but Fox is being more circumspect in the wake of mediocre reviews, suggesting in the $85 million range. Apocalypse currently has a 48 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, compared to 92 percent for Days of Future Past, which debuted to $110.6 million on Memorial Day weekend in 2014.
Apocalypse has already amassed more than $130 million overseas, where it began rolling out last weekend.
Marking the ninth outing in the X-Men series, including the smash hit Deadpool, Apocalypse's net budget is $178 million before marketing costs.
James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne and Lucas Till are among those reprising their roles, while a raft of new actors join the franchise. The latter category includes Oscar Isaac, Alexandra Shipp, Tye Sheridan, Olivia Munn, Sophie Turner, Ben Hardy and Kodi Smit-McPhee. Also, Hugh Jackman makes a cameo as Wolverine.
This time out, the superheroes must stop Apocalypse, an ancient mutant played by Isaac who wakes up and is intent on destroying mankind.
Disney is hopeful that Alice Through the Looking Glass will open in the low $60 million range; outside the studio, some think it will come in closer to $55 million. The follow-up to Tim Burton's 2010 Alice in Wonderland - which took in $3.9 million in previews on its way to a stunning $116.1 million debut — has been ravaged by critics (it shows a 28 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes).
Burton didn't return to direct Through the Looking Glass; instead James Bobin, who helmed theMuppets franchise for Disney, took over directing duties. Castmembers Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp and Alan Rickman reprise their roles, while Sacha Baron Cohen is among the newcomers to the live-action, family-friendly franchise. The film cost $170 million to produce.
Memorial Day 2016 should prove an healthy uptick over last year, when Tomorrowland opened to an anemic $42.7 million.
By Pamela McClintock