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‘Wonka’ enters a movie marketplace skeptical of franchises and musicals

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Timothee Chalamet stars as a young Willy Wonka in Warner Bros.’ “Wonka.”
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A younger, sweeter Willy Wonka enters theaters this weekend. Oh, and he does a lot more singing.

Expectations are high that “Wonka” will deliver families to theaters, as the film has already generated goodwill with critics, scoring a clear “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The family-friendly film is expected to drum up between $35 million and $45 million during its domestic opening weekend. “Wonka’s” Thursday and Friday presales are reportedly trending ahead of other kid-focused releases this year such as Disney’sUniversal’s

With kids beginning their holiday school breaks and limited competition in the family space, “Wonka” could see consistent ticket sales over the next few weeks. Universal’s animated “Migration,” due out next week, is its only direct rival.

Warner Bros.’

Still, audiences have balked at a number of legacy-driven franchise style films this year. New additions to established franchises like Indiana Jones, Mission Impossible and Transformers, as well as several films from Marvel and DC, didn’t perform particularly well.

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It’s also unclear how general audiences will react to the fact that “Wonka” is a musical, even though the original film was full of songs. Trailers for the film hinted at several dance numbers and even showcased Chalamet singing “Pure Imagination,” which Wilder sang to memorable effect in the 1971 movie. But the marketing for “Wonka” did not reveal that there are around half a dozen original songs crafted for the film.

Warner Bros. didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Musicals have been hit-or-miss at the box office in recent years.

“Studios and filmmakers are often loath to place a genre label on their films for fear it may alienate some in the potential audience pool,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. “Nowhere has this been truer than with the category of musical.”

Prior to the pandemic, films like “The Greatest Showman,” the Pitch Perfect series and the two “Mamma Mia” delighted audiences .However, more recently, it’s only been animated features like “Frozen 2” and “Encanto” from Disney that have enamored audiences.

Hollywood has attempted to bring a number of Broadway musicals to the big screen since 2019, but audiences didn’t turn up. Of course, many of those titles — “In the Heights,” “West Side Story” and “Dear Evan Hansen” — arrived during Covid restrictions and catered toward older viewers who were less-inclined to enter public places at the time.

“Ultimately, like many films in this day and age, [musicals] need to strike a chord with their core audience and generate strong word of mouth because it is fair to say that musicals are very much feast-or-famine from a commercial approach,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “But when they hit, they can hit big.”

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal is the distributor of “Migration,” “Trolls Band Together,” the “Pitch Perfect” film franchise and “Dear Evan Hansen.” NBCUniversal also owns Rotten Tomatoes.

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