Box Office: Kenneth Branagh’s Murder Mystery ‘A Haunting in Venice’ Targets Middling $15 Million Debut

“A Haunting in Venice,” Kenneth Branagh’s latest cinematic take on Agatha Christie’s library of murder mystery novels, is expected to spook the box office competition.

It’s targeting a soft $13 million to $15 million in its North American debut. Those ticket sales will likely be enough to claim the No. 1 spot — unless last weekend’s champion “The Nun” ($32.6 million) enjoys a surprisingly strong second outing. “A Haunting in Venice” also opens this weekend at the international box office, where it’s tracking to earn $23 million to $28 million.

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Branagh, returning as Detective Hercule Poirot, leads the cast of Disney and 20th Century’s supernatural whodunit, along with Jamie Dornan, Tina Fey and Michelle Yeoh. It’s the kind of star-studded film that could use a boost from promotional efforts by actors, who aren’t allowed to talk about their work during the current SAG strike. Sony’s GameStop stock frenzy-inspired “Dumb Money,” which opens on Friday in limited release and expands nationwide later in September, is another crowd pleaser with famous faces — Seth Rogen, Paul Dano, Pete Davidson and America Ferrera — that would benefit from its cast on the press circuit.

Even without its talent on talk shows or magazine covers, “A Haunting in Venice” is aiming to start stronger than Branagh’s prior Christie adaptation “Death on the Nile,” which opened to a weak $12.8 million in 2022. Yet it’s a steep decline from the first in the Poirot trilogy, “Murder on the Orient Express,” which opened to $28.6 million and became a hit with $100 million at the domestic box office and $350 million globally. After the $90 million-budgeted “Death on the Nile” sunk in theaters, the studio smartly whittled down the “Haunting in Venice” production budget to $60 million.

Based on Christie’s 1969 novel “Hallowe’en Party,” the film follows a now-retired Hercule Poirot, who must solve the murder of a guest at a séance he attended. Reviews for “Venice” have been better than its predecessors, with Variety’s Todd Gilchrist giving credit to the ensemble. In his review, he wrote that “playful turns from the supporting cast elevate another murder mystery to suitably arch gothic horror.”

Elsewhere, Sony is bringing the David-and-Goliath drama “Dumb Money” to eight theaters across only a few cities, including New York City and Los Angeles, as well as Chicago, San Francisco and Boston. It’s a slightly larger footprint than the traditional platform release, one that is designed to build momentum before launching nationwide on Sept. 29.

Craig Gillespie directed the stranger-than-fiction battle between amateur investors on Reddit and hedge fund billionaires that resulted in the infamous GameStop stock saga of 2021. As the well-documented tale goes, a group of fiercely loyal ragtag investors — led by Dano’s Keith Gill, a.k.a. Roaring Kitty — banded together to put a squeeze on Wall Street traders who bet the video game retailer GameStop would fail.

Critics seem surprised to have enjoyed “Dumb Money,” which premiered last week at the Toronto Film Festival. In Vulture’s review, Alison Willmore wrote, “‘Dumb Money’ may not convince you that the world needed a movie about the GameStop affair […] but it doesn’t leave you feeling sorry you watched it.”

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