LOS ANGELES, Sept. 25 (Variety.com) - "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" is the new ruler of the box office.
The sequel from Fox is expected to earn $39 million this weekend from 4,003 locations. That's slightly below where tracking had pegged it (somewhere in the $40 millions), but above the original "Kingsman" movie, which earned $36.2 million when it opened in 2015.
"Kingsman" is also launching to about $61 million from 64 markets abroad, giving it a $100 million worldwide opening. The audience was male-dominated (58%) and 60% of viewers were between 18 and 34 years old. The sequel received mixed reviews (a 51% score on Rotten Tomatoes), and audiences earned it a B+ CinemaScore, which is the same as the original "Kingsman." Imax screens accounted for $3.5 million of "Kingsman's" domestic earnings and $9.2 million of its global grosses.
"I think it's really a very strong opening. We're right where we expected it to be," said Chris Aronson, distribution chief at Fox. "Anytime you can open a sequel bigger than the first one you're onto something."
The film franchise is based on the "Kingsman" comic book series, and features a starry cast. Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, and Taron Egerton topline the action comedy and are joined by supporting characters played by Halle Berry, Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, and perhaps most notably, Elton John. The movie reunites the group of secret agents who use a tailor shop as a cover. This time around they travel to the United States where they team with their American counterpart (called Statesman) who pose as cowboy whiskey distillers.
Meanwhile, "The Lego Ninjago Movie" from Warner Bros. looks like a miss, as it's tracking for $21.2 million from 4,047 locations. Earlier projections pegged the opening above $30 million. And the Lego franchise is seeing diminishing returns. The original opened to $69.1 million in 2014. Then, "The Lego Batman Movie" opened earlier this year to $53 million. The latest movie is connecting with an especially young audience -- 46% of viewers were under the age of 18. Unlike the first two, which both scored above 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, critics were more mixed, earning "Ninjago" a 53%.
"I was hoping that it would have a more broad audience, and am still hopeful," said Jeff Goldstein, distribution chief at Warner Bros., who said "Ninjago" is "a more niche story" than the previous Lego movies. "They're different stories with different potential," he said.
Billed as an animated action comedy martial arts film, three directors are at the helm for "Ninjago" -- Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, and Bob Logan. The voice cast is comprised of Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Fred Armisen, Abbi Jacobson, Olivia Munn, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Pena, Zach Woods, and Jackie Chan.
There's also Entertainment Studios' horror entry "Friend Request," which is barely registering. The film is tracking for a $2.4 million opening from 2,573 locations.
That leaves Warner Bros. and New Line's "It" in second for the weekend ($30 million from 4,007 theaters). Earlier in the week, the blockbuster passed "The Exorcist" to become the highest-grossing horror movie of all time.
"To have a movie of this or any genre to drop 50% in its third week is exceptional," Goldstein said. "It's fun for us."
CBS Films and Lionsgate's "American Assassin" is tracking for the fourth spot this weekend with $6.2 million from 3,154 locations. And Open Road's "Home Again," starring Reese Witherspoon, should round out the top five with $3.3 million from 2,685 spots.
In limited release, "Stronger," from Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate, is expected to make $1.75 million from 574 locations. Jake Gyllenhaal stars in the Boston marathon bombing movie directed by David Gordon Green. Critics praised the drama, earning it a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes.
And Fox Searchlight's "Battle of the Sexes" is serving a very strong $525,000 from 21 theaters. The sports biopic from "Little Miss Sunshine" directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris stars Emma Stone as Billie Jean King and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs. The distributor plans to add 65 markets to expand to up to 1,200 locations for Sept. 29.
Focus Features' "Victoria and Abdul" is opening to $152,000 from four spots, including a great showing at the Paris theatre in New York. Next weekend the film will expand to about 75 locations in the top markets, with plans to go wide on Oct. 6.
"We're very excited about how the film did," said Focus' distribution chief Lisa Bunnell. "It's a very entertaining film, and people want to see films that make you feel good."
And from one location in New York, Good Deed Entertainment's "Loving Vincent" earned $24,304. The film, billed as the first-ever entirely oil painted feature, will see a gradual expansion throughout October and November.