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Box office: 'Justice League' brings down the hammer on 'Thor'

In a superhero showdown, the combined forces of Warner Bros.' "Justice League" was enough to topple "Thor: Ragnarok" from the top spot on the box office charts, despite a soft opening for the DC Comics team-up.

"Justice League" grossed an estimated $96 million, according to figures from measurement firm ComScore, below analysts' predictions of $110 million.

The film, which earned mixed reviews with a B+ rating on CinemaScore and a 40% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, opened below all of the studio's previous movies featuring Ben Affleck as Batman ("Suicide Squad" at $133.7 million and "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice" at $166 million); as well as "Man of Steel" ($116.6 million) and "Wonder Woman" ($103.2 million).

"It's not where you start, it's where you end up," said Jeff Goldstein, the studio's distribution chief. "We always knew it would be complicated when you take a movie where you're introducing three new characters that have not been on the screen before. It's more or less their origin story: Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman. Clearly the audiences have really just embraced each one of these characters, starting with Ezra Miller for the Flash."

Warner Bros. declined to give a budget for "Justice League," which was co-financed by RatPac-Dune Entertainment, but people close to the project estimated that it cost about $300 million to make, not factoring in marketing spending.

In addition to Affleck's Batman, the film stars Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, Henry Cavill as Superman, Ray Fisher as Cyborg, Jason Momoa as Aquaman and Miller as the Flash. After "Justice League," the next live-action DC film on the Warner Bros. schedule is "Aquaman," set for a December 2018 release.

In second place, Lionsgate's "Wonder" brought in $27 million in its first week, well above analysts' predictions of $9 million.

The film, about a fifth-grade boy trying to cope with facial disfigurement, earned a stellar A+ rating on CinemaScore and a 84% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

"The movie is all about tolerance and compassion," said the film's producer David Hoberman. "I think people are feeling a desperate need for positive energy and positive thinking and I think this movie provides that."

"We're in a time period right now where we are inundated with negative news and people calling each other names," added producer Todd Lieberman. "This is an antidote to all that. The fact that people are connecting to it the way that they are and having discussions about it, there's no better feeling."

Disney's "Thor: Ragnarok" slipped to third place in its third week, grossing $21.8 million, a 62% drop in earnings since last week, for a cumulative $247.4 million.

The third installment in the standalone "Thor" franchise stars Chris Hemsworth as the Norse god of thunder, tasked with saving his home planet Asgard from a formidable new invader. The film, which cost $180 million to make, also stars Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum and Tessa Thompson.

Directed by New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi, a veteran of the indie scene with films such as "What We Do in the Shadows" and "Hunt for the Wilderpeople," "Thor: Ragnarok" has a 92% "fresh" rating from review aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes and an A rating on audience polling service CinemaScore.

In fourth place, Paramount's "Daddy's Home 2" brought in $14.8 million in its second week, a 50% drop, for a cumulative $50.6 million in earnings.

The latest entry sees Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell join forces once again as co-parenting dads trying to make a memorable Christmas for the kids. The film, directed by Sean Anders, received mixed reviews from audiences and critics, earning an A- rating on CinemaScore and a 17% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Mel Gibson and John Lithgow also star.

Rounding out the top five, Fox's thriller "Murder on the Orient Express" took in $13.8 million in its second week, a 50% drop, for a cumulative gross of $51.7 million.

The latest adaptation of Agatha Christie's murder mystery stars Kenneth Branagh as detective Hercule Poirot, tasked with solving a murder on a luxury train in the 1930s. The film earned a B rating on CinemaScore and a 58% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe and Daisy Ridley also star.

Also new this week, Sony's animated Nativity movie "The Star" opened with $10 million, above analysts' expectations of $7 million.

The latest faith-based effort from Sony Pictures’ successful Affirm label, the $20-million film is about a young donkey’s role in the first Christmas. "The Star" earned positive reviews from audiences and critics, garnering an A rating on CinemaScore and a 62% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

In limited release, A24's comedy drama "Lady Bird" added 201 locations and brought in an additional $2.5 million, for a per-screen average of $10,630. Now in its third week, the film has performed exceptionally well, earning a cumulative $4.7 million.

Written and directed by Greta Gerwig, "Lady Bird" is a coming-of-age story starring Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf and earned a 100% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Fox Searchlight expanded "Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri" into 49 additional locations, earning $1.1 million among 53 theaters for a per-screen average of $21,038. Now in its second week, the film has earned a cumulative $1.5 million.

Starring Frances McDormand as a bereaved mother struggling with the gruesome murder of her teenage daughter, the film is proving to be popular among audiences, earning a 95% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and an audience approval rating of 97%. Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell and Peter Dinklage also star.

New this week, Sony's "Roman J. Israel, Esq" opened in four theaters with $65,000 for a per-screen average of $16,250. Starring Denzel Washington as Israel, a defense attorney in the middle of a crisis, the film earned a 55% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Directed by Dan Gilroy, Colin Farrell, Tony Plana and Carmen Ejogo also star.

Next week, Disney opens the animated "Coco" and Sony Classics premieres the drama "Call Me by Your Name" in limited release.

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