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Controversy may bite into ‘A Dog’s Purpose’

This image released by Universal Studios shows John Ortiz in a scene from "A Dog's Purpose." (Joe Lederer / AP)
This image released by Universal Studios shows John Ortiz in a scene from "A Dog's Purpose." (Joe Lederer / AP)
By Ryan Faughnder Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES – A movie about man’s best friend discovering the meaning of life would seem like a no-brainer for a studio looking to appeal to pet-lovers. So what could go wrong?

A lot, in the case of Universal Pictures’ and Amblin Entertainment’s “A Dog’s Purpose,” which was beset with controversy last week after TMZ released a video that appeared to show a German shepherd struggling to stay out of a tank of rushing water.

People involved with the film, including producer Gavin Polone and star Dennis Quaid, have blasted reports of abuse, saying the video was misleadingly edited and sensationalized by animal rights advocates. But the footage had already set off a wave of online outrage.

It’s unclear how much the hubbub will affect grosses for the picture, which features the voice of Josh Gad as a canine who experiences multiple lifetimes and owners. “A Dog’s Purpose” is expected to gross $17 million to $20 million Friday through Sunday, according to people who have reviewed pre-release audience surveys, a solid start for a movie that cost less than $25 million to make.

That means the emotional drama could still beat two horror films – Sony-Screen Gems’ action sequel “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” and last week’s M. Night Shyamalan hit, “Split.”

Sony’s new “Resident Evil” movie, the sixth and allegedly final installment in the long-running series based on the popular survival video game, is expected to gross $13 million to $16 million, according to analysts. That means it is likely to open significantly lower than the last outing, 2012’s “Resident Evil: Retribution.”

However, Sony is banking on the international moviegoing public to make the picture a success. It’s already big in Japan, grossing $35 million on a production budget of $40 million. The studio expects the movie’s total global grosses to surpass $70 million this weekend.

One question is how much “Split” will drop from its stellar $40 million opening last weekend. Horror movies tend to decline steeply after their debuts, and “Split” will face competition for horror fans from “Resident Evil.” However, positive reviews and word of mouth could help.

Lionsgate’s Los Angeles musical “La La Land” should also be a major contender as it expands its release to about 3,000 theaters after securing a record-tying 14 Oscar nominations Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Weinstein Co. will probably not do much business with its new Matthew McConaughey drama “Gold.” The retelling of an infamous Indonesian mining scandal is expected to gross about $3 million Friday through Sunday.

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