While the Holiday movie season technically begins the first weekend of November, things really kick off the weekend before Thanksgiving. It's no different this year, with two sure-fire hits reaching theaters on Friday (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part One and Happy Feet Two). From now until the end of the year, nearly every weekend is packed with potential blockbusters, ranging from family movies (Arthur Christmas, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked) to dark adult fare (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and everything in between. To mark the start of this onslaught of major releases, here's a look at the potential biggest movies, as well as a prediction as to what they may gross.
2. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Dec. 16) Aside from Breaking Dawn, the biggest slamdunk this season is the Sherlock Holmessequel. That movie grossed $209 million around the same time in 2009, and that was up against Avatar. Star Robert Downey, Jr. remains incredibly popular, and the sequel ups the ante with the introduction of legendary Holmes nemesis Professor Moriarty. Still, sequels have had a tough go lately, so a huge improvement on the first movie's gross will probably be difficult to achieve. Forecast: $240 million
3. Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked Chipwrecked is coming out at the same time of year as its two predecessors which made $217.3 million and $219.6 million, respectively. It also clearly differentiates itself with the shipwreck angle. As annoying as the Chipmunks may be to many moviegoers, Chipwrecked is guaranteed to be a go-to choice for tons of families throughout the holidays. Forecast: $200 million
4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Dec. 21) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is probably the most popular adult book to receive the big screen treatment since The Da Vinci Code, which grossed $217.5 million in 2006. Dragon Tattoo is way too dark to come close to that figure, but it's knockout campaign, which counterprograms it as "The Feel Bad Movie of Christmas," should make it a top choice throughout the Holiday season and well in to January. Forecast: $165 million
5. Happy Feet Two (Nov. 18) Happy Feet Two is the final major animated sequel this year following Cars 2 and Kung Fu Panda 2, which declined around 22 percent on average from their predecessors. Besides the addition of two krill, voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, the movie doesn't appear to build much on the first Happy Feet, which earned $198 million in 2006, so a similar drop is probably in order. Forecast: $155 million
6. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (Dec. 16 IMAX/select theaters, Dec. 21 everywhere) The Mission: Impossible series took a bit of a hit in 2006 when Mission: Impossible III earned just $134 million domestically. Tom Cruise's star has also faded a bit in recent years, with last Summer's Knight & Day qualifying as his least-attended action movie in decades. Producers attempted to counteract these factors by bringing in legendary Pixar director Brad Bird and shooting roughly 30 minutes of footage with IMAX cameras. What could provide the biggest boost, though, is the inclusion of The Dark Knight Rises prologue on all IMAX prints, which should translate in to huge business in that format. Still, fourth entries rarely top their predecessors, and nothing stands out in the trailers or commercials to indicate that this will easily buck that trend. Forecast: $125 million
7. Arthur Christmas (Nov. 23) Family-oriented Christmas-themed movies are one of the safest box office bets in recent memory, especially when they involve Santa in some way (The Polar Express, Elf, The Santa Clause and The Santa Clause 2 all made between $139 and $182 million). Arthur Christmas probably won't have a blockbuster opening, but it is receiving solid reviews (currently 93% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) and it should play well throughout the entire Christmas season. Forecast: $120 million
8. The Adventures of Tintin (Dec. 21) Tintin marks Steven Spielberg's first foray in to animation, as well as his first of two movies to be released at the end of December 2011. The movie has already made over $160 million overseas, most of which came in Europe where the title character is extremely popular. He's less known to U.S. audiences, though, and motion-capture animation has been hit-or-miss. The highest-grossing example is The Polar Express ($182 million), while A Christmas Carol was notably lower in 2009 ($137.8 million). Those movies were based off well-known source material and were timed nicely with the holidays, whereas Tintin could have come out at any time of year. Regardless, the Spielbergian adventure elements should help the movie get past $100 million. Forecast: $115 million
9. We Bought a Zoo (Dec. 23) Christmas brings not one, but two animal-oriented book adaptations targeting family audiences. We Bought a Zoo's heart-warming tale will be more immediately appealing that War Horse's darker material, so the Cameron Crowe-directed movie has a slight edge over Spielberg's war drama. Also, distributor 20th Century Fox is so enthusiastic about the movie that they are screening it on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, a full month in advance of its actual opening. This kind of confidence is rare, and indicates the movie's potential broad appeal. Forecast: $105 million
10. New Year's Eve (Dec. 9) With its star-studded ensemble cast, holiday-centric romances, and the same director (Gary Marshall), New Year's Eve essentially functions as a sequel to 2010 hit Valentine's Day ($110.5 million). That movie was propped up by a monster opening weekend ($56.3 million) that corresponded with its titular holiday, a luxury that New Year's Eve won't have. It will hold up much better throughout the month and in to the beginning of January, though matching Valentine's Day's total will be tough. Forecast: $90 million
Other Wide Releases:
The Muppets (Nov. 23): While the movie is highly-anticipated within a select group, The Muppets haven't really been all that popular on the big screen since their very first outing back in 1979. Adjusted for inflation, the Muppets movies from the 90s earned between $26 and $62 million, and with Disney's strong campaign this movie should wind up at the high-end of that range.
Hugo (Nov. 23): Martin Scorsese's first children's movie is a tough sellit has too much competition to stand out to the younger audience, and it could look too childish for older audiences. Scorsese's avid fan-base should help spread solid word-of-mouth, but this still looks poised to be one of the lower-grossing movies of the season.
The Sitter (Dec. 9): R-rated comedies hit a peak during the Summer, when four straight entries made over $100 million. Since then, though, the movies have been on a brutal downward slope, and even with its Adventures in Babysitting-like story, The Sitter doesn't look like it will easily reverse the trend.
Young Adult (Dec. 9 limited, Dec. 16 expansion): Jason Reitman's Up in the Air earned $83.8 million at the same time in 2009, though it had George Clooney and slightly better reviews and awards buzz than Young Adult. This should be a minor hit, but cracking the Top 10 is unlikely.
War Horse (Dec. 25): As Steven Spielberg's first traditional war movie since 1998's Saving Private Ryan, War Horse would seem to be in very good shape. However, its protagonist appears to be a horse that doesn't talk, and it's going up against tons of lighter, more broadly-appealing fare. If it reaches heartland audiences the way Disney is hoping, it could be a breakout hit, but it's not a slamdunk by any means.
The Darkest Hour (Dec. 25): There are just too many movies coming out on or around Christmas for this alien invasion movie from Summit to be a hit. The best case scenario is matching Alien Vs. Predator - Requiem's $41.8 million, though that would be a major accomplishment.
Noteworthy Limited Releases:
The Descendants (Nov. 16 in NY/LA, Nov. 18 limited): Alexander Payne's last two movies were Sideways and About Schmidt, which made $71.5 million and $65 million, respectively. The Descendants is receiving similar buzz, and also features George Clooney in a potential award-nominated performance. It should wind up at a similar level.
The Artist (Nov. 23): This could go a number of ways: it's definitely a crowd-pleaser, at least among film buffs (I caught it at the AFI Fest in Los Angeles where it received a very warm reception). Also, The Weinstein Company seems to be throwing major support behind it, and it will absolutely earn a handful of Oscar nominations. Unfortunately, it is black-and-white and (mostly) silent, and that's going to keep tons of viewers away regardless of how good it is.
Shame (Dec. 2): The controversial Michael Fassbender sex addiction drama has received all kinds of free press thanks to its NC-17 rating. However, the rating will keep the movie from a traditional marketing push, and it will also limit the number of theaters it can be showed at. The all-time highest-grossing NC-17 movie is Showgirls at $20.3 million, and Shame could at least pass Henry & June's $11.6 million to claim second place.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Dec. 9): After earning over $22 million in the United Kingdom, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy will attempt to at least match that figure in the U.S. It's being touted as a near-perfect Cold War thriller, and it has an impressive 97 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes after 39 reviews. Stir in some awards chatter, and this could be a standout choice for adults through the season.
The Iron Lady (Dec. 30): The recently-released trailer for The Iron Lady makes it look like a more modern-day version of The King's Speech, which is surely intentional given that movie's $138.8 million gross. Early word is that The Iron Lady isn't quite as good, though it should be considered a success at a fraction of King's Speech numbers.