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Aquaman arrives on a $67 million wave, conquering pre-Christmas box office

A magical English nanny and a kindhearted yellow Transformer are no match for DC’s wettest superhero this weekend.

The splashy comic-book movie Aquaman, starring Jason Momoa as the half-Atlantean tough guy, is on track to earn an estimated $67.4 million at 4,125 theaters in the U.S. and Canada from Friday through Sunday — topping the box office and besting fellow new releases Mary Poppins Returns and Bumblebee. Together, though, the wave of high-profile pre-Christmas movies should help close a record year for the North American box office, after a lackluster 2017. According to Comscore, this year’s domestic total should inch past 2016’s high-water mark of $11.383 billion on Sunday.

Made for about $200 million, Aquaman is opening in line industry projections, which were in the $65 million to $70 million range. (Including paid sneak previews, its domestic total is an estimated $72.1 million.) Overseas, where the movie began rolling out two weeks ago, it has already grossed about $410.7 million (with $91.3 million of that coming this weekend), bringing its worldwide total to about $482.8 million.

Aquaman comes as the first of Warner Bros’. interconnected films based on DC Comics characters to open since last year’s all-star team-up Justice League, which debuted with $93.8 million but failed to impress critics or audiences. Along with the summer 2017 hit Wonder Woman — which opened to $103.3 million and went on to earn $821.9 million worldwide — Aquaman could help recalibrate the dour tone and crossover-heavy approach of WB’s superhero mega-franchise (as seen in films like Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice).

Directed by James Wan (Furious 7, the Conjuring movies), Aquaman follows Momoa’s eponymous hero as he battles his power-hungry half-brother and tries to protect surface dwellers and ocean folk alike. The cast also includes Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. Critics’ reviews have been measured but generally favorable, and moviegoers gave it an A-minus CinemaScore.

In second place, Disney’s sequel Mary Poppins Returns is edging out Paramount’s Transformers spin-off Bumblebee, with the former earning an estimated $22.2 million and the latter taking in about $21 million. Both figures are below industry projections, though time will tell if they make up ground over the Christmas holiday.

Released on Wednesday, Mary Poppins Returns is headed toward a five-day domestic opening of about $31 million, and it will add about $20.3 million in foreign markets. The film represents Disney’s latest effort to revive one of its iconic properties, and stars Emily Blunt as the practically perfect governess, following in the footsteps of Julie Andrews in the classic 1964 film. Returns also features Lin-Manuel Miranda, Emily Mortimer, and Ben Whishaw, and is directed by Rob Marshall. Reviews have been positive, and audiences gave it an A-minus CinemaScore.

Bumblebee also garnered an A-minus CinemaScore, to go with overwhelmingly positive reviews. Directed by Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings) and starring Hailee Steinfeld as a girl who befriends a shapeshifting VW Bug, the film is a smaller-scaled outing than the Michael Bay-directed Transformers movies, and one the studio hopes will reinvigorate the series.

Overseas, Bumblebee will add about $31.1 million this weekend, and it’s set to debut Jan. 4 in China, where the Transformers movies have proved popular.

Also launching this weekend are STX’s rom-com Second Act, starring Jennifer Lopez, with an estimated $6.5 million, good for seventh place, and Universal’s offbeat drama Welcome to Marwen, starring Steve Carell, in ninth place with an underwhelming $2.4 million.

Two holdovers round out the top five: Sony’s animated flick Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, with an estimated $16.7 million, and Warner Bros’. crime drama The Mule, with an estimated $9.3 million.

In limited release, Amazon Studios opened the Polish drama Cold War in three locations this weekend, earning $55,727 (a per-theater average of $18,575).

Overall box office is up 7.5 percent year-to-date. See the Dec. 21-23 figures below.

1. Aquaman — $67.4 million
2. Mary Poppins Returns — $22.2 million
3. Bumblebee — $21 million
4. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse — $16.7 million
5. The Mule — $9.3 million
6. The Grinch — $8.2 million
7. Second Act — $6.5 million
8. Ralph Breaks the Internet — $4.6 million
9. Welcome to Marwen — $2.4 million
10. Mary Queen of Scots — $2.2 million