Box office preview: Olivia Wilde’s ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ goes up against James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ re-release

After another disappointing weekend with some record low numbers, we’re moving deeper into September with a movie that has been all the talk of the town long before it premiered at the Venice Film Festival on Labor Day. Read on for Gold Derby’s box office preview.

Olivia Wilde’s psychological thriller “Don’t Worry Darling” is being released by Warner Bros. into 4,000 or more theaters on Friday after premiering at the festival earlier in the month. The anticipated second feature as a director from Wilde after 2019’s “Booksmart” stars Florence Pugh (“Black Widow”) and pop mega-star Harry Styles, who has been involved in a tabloid-teasing relationship with his director for over a year.

Although the plot for the thriller has been kept somewhat secretive, the trailer shows it to be a ‘50s era suburban thriller involving women living idyllically as housewives while their husbands work on a mysterious project that looms over them all. Wilde has a terrific leading lady in Pugh, who has been making waves among young audiences with starring roles in “Lady Macbeth,” the WWE comedy “Fighting with my Family,” Ari Aster’s “Midsommar” and Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women,” before being cast as Yelena Belova in Marvel’s “Black Widow” and last year’s “Hawkeye” series. Pugh was already well on her way to stardom even before being cast in Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune: Part Two,” but “Don’t Worry Darling” will be a good test for her box office prowess.

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Then again, one cannot discount the devout young female fandom for Styles ever since he first appeared as a member of British boy band One Direction, while his popularity has continued to explode as a solo pop icon. Styles’ popularity can be seen by how he sold out a residency at New York City’s esteemed Madison Square Garden, which he’s been performing while also doing the festival circuit with “Don’t Worry Darling” and his upcoming Amazon movie, “My Policeman.” As Justin Timberlake can attest, pop stardom does not always lead to box office, but the two leads are surrounded by an A-list cast that also includes Chris Pine (“Lightyear”), Gemma Chan (“Eternals”), as well as Wilde and Nick Kroll in supporting roles.

We probably don’t have to reiterate all the controversy that has surrounded the movie before its premiere – mostly chatter about Wilde and Pugh not getting along on set, rumors that only grew when the two didn’t appear together at the film’s premiere – and yet, oddly, that’s only helped build interest in people wanting to see the movie.

Not helping matters, the movie has been getting harsh reviews, not only out of Venice but ever since, and it’ll be tougher for Warner Bros. to hide the movie’s 36% Rotten Tomatoes score from prospective moviegoers. It harkens back to the release of Darren Aronofksy’s “Mother!” in September 2017, although that managed to get better reviews despite a negative response from its Toronto International Film Festival premiere. Despite its Oscar-winning lead in Jennifer Lawrence, that movie only opened with $7.5 million in 2,638 and topped out with $17 million domestic, which would be horrendous for “Don’t Worry Darling,” considering it’s only one of two movies being released by the beleaguered Warners for the rest of the year.

Despite such reviews, both Pugh and Styles have such rabid younger fanbases, and they just might not care. General curiosity about the movie should be enough to help it make more than $20 million this weekend for first place. (An IMAX Experience preview for this past Monday, featuring a QnA with Wilde and Styles, sold out instantly in many cities.)

James Cameron’s “Avatar” is being re-released by Disney into 1,800 3D and IMAX theaters on Friday in anticipation of the release of its first (of five?!?) sequels, “Avatar: Way of the Water” this December. We’ve been seeing mixed results with re-releases over the past couple months with “Spider-Man: No Way Home” – re-released with extra footage – faring better than re-releases of Spielberg’s 1975 movie “Jaws” and 1982 blockbuster “E.T. the Extra-terrestrial.”

When “Avatar” was released in 2009, Cameron’s “Titanic” was still the highest grossing movie domestically with $600 million, having made $1.8 billion worldwide. “Avatar” topped that record with $749.8 million after opening with $77 million just before Christmas, and it became a global phenomenon with a lot of interest on its use of the (at the time) fledgling 3D process. “Avatar” ended up grossing $2.7 billion worldwide, and it ended up getting a special edition re-release the following year that added another $44.8 million to its take.

Although “Avatar” had been streaming on Disney+ for almost a year before it was pulled, there’s probably some excitement to see it in theaters once again, since both movies have had trailers in front of this past summer’s IMAX releases. Even so, “Avatar” will probably top out at $8 million to take third place this weekend.

There isn’t much else in terms of new and limited releases other than NEON expanding Brett Morgen’s David Bowie doc “Moonage Daydream” into more non-IMAX theaters after the film scored the highest per-theater this past weekend. Otherwise, this will be a weekend where some of the stronger movies should do most of the business, especially Viola Davis’ “The Woman King,” which should take a strong second place this weekend.

Check back on Sunday to see how the movies above fared and how you did in this week’s Gold Derby box office prediction game.

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