Courtesy of Disney / Pixar

The new Pixar movie could prove an early litmus test as to whether moviegoing is being impacted by worries over the coronavirus.

The animated family pic Onward is having trouble finding its groove at the Friday box office, according to early returns.

At this pace, projections show the Disney-Pixar release opening in the $37 million to $40 million range domestically in what would mark one of the lowest nationwide openings ever for the storied Pixar brand. Heading into the weekend, Onward was already tracking for a relatively modest domestic launch of $40 million to $45 million, meaning that expectations were muted for the original offering.

Box office analysts say they won’t know until later this weekend, when they are able to study returns on a market-by-market basis, whether worries over the coronavirus are impacting Onward, or whether it is the movie itself.

Onward follows two teenage elf brothers (Chris Pratt and Tom Holland) who embark on a quest to discover if there is still magic out there, and if they can use it to bring back their late father. Dan Scanlon, who directed Monsters University, is behind the film and wrote the movie with Jason Headley and Keith Bunin.

The film, which currently sits at an 86 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, is playing in 4,301 theaters in North America, including 400 Imax screens, 800 premium large-format screens and 2,300 3D locations.

In 1995, Toy Story — Pixar’s first release — opened to $29.1 million domestically, not adjusted for inflation. Pixar’s other lowest nationwide opening belonged to 2015’s The Good Dinosaur ($39.2 million).

Also launching this weekend is Warner Bros.’ adult drama The Way Back, starring Ben Affleck as a former basketball all-star struggling with the loss of his wife and addiction as he attempts to make a comeback by becoming the coach of his alma mater’s high school basketball team.

The Way Back is on course for a domestic start of $8 million, which would put it on the higher end of expectations.

Focus Features’ Emma expands across the country this weekend, and should clear a solid $5 million to $6 million.

Studio distribution executives and box office analysts were heartened Friday that the two films, along with a cluster of holdovers, were doing solid business.

Universal and Blumhouse’s The Invisible Man could fall 50 percent or less in its second weekend with nearly $14.5 million or more, good enough for a second-place finish.

We’ll take a closer look at things tomorrow morning once Friday estimates come in. For now you can check out our weekend preview below.

WEEKEND PREVIEW: Make way for a weekend in which we see two new wide releases and one expanding release, all of which have received postive critical reactions. Sure to lead the way is Disney and Pixar’s Onward, followed by WB’s debut of Ben Affleck‘s The Way Back and Focus will expand the reach of Emma into over 1,500 locations as it breaks nationwide. Beyond the films themselves, one question mark is what kind of impact, if any, will COVID-19 have on the domestic marketplace as businesses and schools continue to close around the United States along with theater closures internationally.

Looking at a #1 finish is Pixar’s latest feature, Onward, with the studio anticipating a $40+ million debut from over 4,300 locations. This is the earliest in the year Disney has ever debuted a new Pixar feature, which they typically save for either the summer or late holiday months, and it makes comps to some films such as Coco or The Good Dinosaur a bit difficult given those two, specifically, opened over the Thanksgiving holiday.

One comp, when looking at IMDb page view data over the two weeks leading up to release, that appears to be the best we’re going to get, is last February’s release of How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, which debuted with $55 million. Yet, along with all the comps we’ve thrown at it, it is trailing that one in page views, which is making it hard for us to go any higher than $42 million this weekend, but the already, strong reviews and positive word of mouth could very easily push it over that mark should the slowly growing panic over COVID-19 not keep people home.

As for the possible effects of coronavirus on the box office, parents having to stay home from work with their children might be looking for an outlet, while on the other hand, where would the mind wander should the person next to you in the theater cough? The 2009 H1N1 scare didn’t have any notable effect on the domestic box office and neither did the 2002 SARS outbreak, which only saw 27 cases in the United States. So this is an entirely new scenario that’s very difficult to model.

Internationally, Onward opens day and date in the majority of the world and if the coronavirus is going to have any major effect, this is where it might happen. Theaters have been closed in China for over a month, approximately 50% of theaters closed in Italy and officials have just ordered all schools closed, and a few cinemas in France are also closing. That said, key markets where the film is not opening this weekend include Italy as well as Australia, Korea, Japan, Turkey, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Taiwan.

Look for Universal’s The Invisible Man to appear in second place after a strong start last weekend. Taking a look at the second weekend performance for Insidious: The Last Key, that film, after opening with $29.5 million, dipped -58% in its second frame, though that was over the Martin Luther King weekend, suggesting it might have received a slight bump. Happy Death Day dropped -64% and Paranormal Activity 4 fell a massive -70%. So what does that mean for Invisible Man? Right now we’re anticipating a -61% drop and a $11 million second weekend as the $7 million production nears $50 million stateside after just ten days in release.

Next we come to Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog and 20th Century’s The Call of the Wild, both family films that now must deal with the release of Onward as well as the threat of the coronavirus diminishing this weekend’s box office returns. Right now we’re giving Sonic a slight edge, but there’s plenty of potential wiggle room for both films given the circumstances. That said, should our forecast hold Sonic should end the weekend only a few million shy of soon becoming the highest grossing video game adaptation domestically.

Rounding out the top five we have WB’s The Way Back, which will release in 2,718 locations with tracking currently suggesting a $7-10 million performance and based on what we’re seeing we’re looking for a debut in the lower end of that range. IMDb page view performance for the film over the two weeks leading up to release shows it pacing behind the likes of Draft Day ($9.8m opening) and Million Dollar Arm ($10.5m opening) and all things considered, we’re looking for a performance closer to $6.5 million for the weekend.

Outside the top five, Focus will expand the release of Emma. into over 1,500 theaters. Comps to an expansion such as this are difficult as we look at IMDb page view performance, given the difference in release dates. For example, while Emma. is outpacing films such as Chappaquiddick ($5.7m opening) and Victoria & Abdul ($4.2m opening) it is pacing behind both Love & Friendship ($2.1m opening) and Mary Queen of Scots ($2.28m opening) over the two weeks leading to their wide release. Of course, the release size of those four films was also different with only Chappaquiddick playing in over 1,500 locations over its wide break with the widest release of the other three being Love & Friendship at 819 locations. Right now we’re looking for a performance around $4-5 million for the weekend, again, should outside factors not have too much of a negative effect.

Also of note, look for Bad Boys for Life to finally top $200 million at the domestic box office this weekend, becoming the first release of 2020 to hit that mark.

In limited release, A24 will debut First Cow in four theaters and Burnt Orange Heresy from Sony Classics will also debut in four locations.

This weekend’s forecast is directly below. This post will be updated on Friday morning with Thursday night preview results followed by Friday estimates on Saturday morning, and a complete weekend recap on Sunday morning.

  • Onward (4,310 theaters) – $42.0 M
  • The Invisible Man (3,610 theaters) – $11.0 M
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (3,717 theaters) – $8.5 M
  • The Call of the Wild (3,914 theaters) – $7.7 M
  • The Way Back (2,718 theaters) – $6.5 M
  • Emma. (1,565 theaters) – $4.5 M
  • Bad Boys for Life (2,159 theaters) – $2.7 M
  • Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2,173 theaters) – $2.0 M
  • My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising (620 theaters) – $2.1 M
  • 1917 (1,532 theaters) – $1.8 M