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Box Office: Can ‘A Dog’s Purpose’ Still Win the Weekend After Canine Controversy?

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Universal-Amblin’s “A Dog’s Purpose” faces serious challenges this weekend in the face of a week-old call for a boycott of the canine feel-good film, which opens at about 3,050 North American locations.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has blistered everyone involved with the movie in the wake of the Jan. 18 release of a leaked video showing a German Shepherd named Hercules balking at performing a stunt in churning water. Producer Gavin Polone, director Lasse Hallstrom, co-screenwriter W. Bruce Cameron and animal trainers from Birds and Animals Unlimited have said TMZ and PETA mischaracterized what actually took place — insisting that Hercules was reluctant to go into water only because he had not rehearsed at the specific  location. Polone also alleged that PETA had edited the video in a misleading way.

An online petition launched on Jan. 20 also called for a boycott unless the filmmakers donated a “significant” part of the proceeds to animal welfare organizations. As of Tuesday, the petition had attracted more than 68,000 signers.

But even with the controversy, “A Dog’s Purpose” may still win the weekend with projections of a launch in the $18 million to $22 million range — slightly lower than pre-boycott estimates. Universal Pictures is releasing the movie for Amblin Entertainment and Walden Media, following one devoted dog who finds the meaning of his own existence through the lives of the humans over several lifetimes.

“A Dog’s Purpose” has a $22 million price tag and is based on Cameron’s 2010 novel of the same name. It stars Dennis Quaid, Britt Robertson, KJ Apa, John Ortiz, Juliet Rylance, Luke Kirby, Peggy Lipton, and Pooch Hall, with Josh Gad voicing the dog. Universal is releasing “A Dog’s Purpose” day-and-date in seven international markets.

Universal may be competing against itself for the top spot, with the second weekend of M. Night Shyamalan’s “Split” expected to finish in the high teens. “Split” opened with a surprisingly strong $40 million in its opening weekend with solid support from all demographics.

The weekend’s other openings are Screen Gems’ “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter” in about 3,000 locations and The Weinstein Company’s Matthew McConaughey adventure “Gold” at about 2,200 sites.

“Resident Evil: Final Chapter” is projected to finish the frame with about $13 million to $14 million. The film — which has a $40 million price tag — is performing solidly in Japan with more than $35 million in box office and will open in a few Latin American and Asian territories this weekend.

“The Final Chapter” marks the sixth and final installment in the franchise adaptation of Capcom’s videogame series. The films have grossed over $1 billion worldwide to date.

Production companies are Constantin Film,

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