Box office: 'It' scores record $13.5 million on Thursday night

New Line’s It has opened to a monster $13.5 million on Thursday night.

The North American preview number for It is the third-largest for 2017, trailing only Disney’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, at $17 million, and Beauty and the Beast, with $16.3 million. It’s also the largest gross for a horror movie, for an R-rated title, for a September release, and for a film based on a Stephen King book.

Box office expectations have been sky-high for It following a dismal late summer, with forecasts of at least $65 million at 4,103 theaters. Some estimates are as high as $75 million.

PostTrak data from comScore showed strong audience reaction to It previews, with 48 percent calling the movie “excellent” and another 38 percent rating it “very good.” A total of 60 percent said they would “definitely recommend” the film.

The R-rated movie is based on King’s 1986 novel, which focuses on a group of friends in a fictional Maine community that battles the small town’s demon as kids.

It is the first bit of positive news for the box office since the late July launch of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, which has hit $181 million domestically in seven weeks. Year-to-date North American box office had plunged 6.5% to $7.6 billion as of Sept. 6.

Made for about $35 million, It stars Bill Skarsgard as the evil clown Pennywise who terrorizes children in Derry, Maine. The rest of the cast includes Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Nicholas Hamilton, and Jackson Robert Scott.

Directed by Andy Muschietti, It will smash the record for largest September opening set by Hotel Transylvania 2 in 2015 with $48.5 million, along with the mark for biggest opening weekend by a horror or supernatural film, held by 2011’s Paranormal Activity 3 with $52.6 million.

New Line confirmed Thursday that it was making strides on the It sequel, hiring writer Gary Dauberman to work on the script. Muschietti is expected to return for the second installment.

The weekend will also see counterprogramming from the launch of Open Road’s Home Again. The romantic comedy, which carries a price tag of about $15 million, is expected to make $10 million from 2,940 locations.

Reese Witherspoon stars as a single mother whose life grows more complex when three young men — played by Nat Wolff, Jon Rudnitsky, and Pico Alexander — move in. Hallie Meyers-Shyer directed the feature from her own script. Her mother, veteran romantic comedy specialist Nancy Meyers, produced.

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