December Preview
The final month of 2010 is here at last, though it's curiously absent of any guaranteed blockbusters. Tron Legacy has a raft of hype, but it would be unrealistic to expect it to be a smash based on its origins. Sequels The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and Little Fockers will have a tough time reaching previous series highs, and Yogi Bear and Gulliver's Travels will need to go the extra mile to become this year's Alvin and the Chipmunks or Night at the Museum. Taking all of this in to consideration, this December likely won't match last December, which leveraged Avatar's massive success to become the highest-grossing December ever with $1.07 billion.

Dec. 3

As is typical for the slow post-Thanksgiving weekend, The Warrior's Way is the only new nationwide release on Dec. 3. For their first outing as distributor, Relativity Media is opening the movie at 1,622 theaters with relatively little fanfare. The Warrior's Way is a western-martial arts hybrid, and neither of these genres has been particularly successful recently. A good comparison on the martial arts side is Ninja Assassin, though it would be expecting too much for The Warrior's Way to match that movie's $38.1 million total. Two noteworthy limited releases also open Dec. 3. Ballet thriller Black Swan is the latest from director Darren Aronofsky. His last movie, The Wrestler, rode similar buzz to $26.2 million in 2008. Long-delayed Jim Carrey vehicle I Love You, Phillip Morris finally reaches theaters, though, in a crowded market, this quirky comedy is going to have a tough time standing out.

Dec. 10

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader faces The Tourist on Dec. 10. Following Prince Caspian's disappointing $141.6 million haul (less than half of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), distributor Walt Disney Pictures opted out of making Dawn Treader. 20th Century Fox picked it up and is hoping that moving the series back to December, putting spiritual figure Aslan front-and-center and adding the 3D illusion will be enough to reinvigorate the franchise. Trailers and commercials have been vague on story details, though, and the source material remains unfamiliar to the average moviegoer, suggesting that Dawn Treader may have a tough time hitting Prince Caspian's grosses.

Two of the world's most popular stars come together for the first time in romantic thriller The Tourist. While Angelina Jolie is curiously listed ahead of Johnny Depp in most promotional material, the previews suggest Depp is the lead. Jolie's higher credit is likely due to the fact that she is playing in her wheelhouse (Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and Salt), whereas Depp is at his most successful when hidden beneath a layer of makeup (Pirates of the Caribbean, Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). The Tourist should perform decently enough domestically, though look for it to leverage it's European setting and appealing stars in to stronger earnings overseas.

The Fighter opens in limited release on Dec. 10 before expanding nationwide on Dec. 17. It's receiving considerable Oscar attention for Christian Bale's supporting role and will likely be viewed as a box office success if it can reach the levels of recent December boxing movies like Million Dollar Baby ($100.5 million) and Rocky Balboa ($70.3 million). Julie Taymor's adaptation of William Shakespeare's The Tempest debuts this weekend; Taymor's last Shakespeare translation, Titus, earned just $2 million at the same time in 1999. The Company Men also opens, though distributor The Weinstein Company may be too caught up with The King's Speech to give this movie much of a chance.

Dec. 17

The third weekend sees the release of Tron Legacy, Yogi Bear and How Do You Know. Distributor Walt Disney Pictures is hoping that the CGI-heavy sci-fi visuals and emphasis on 3D will propel Tron Legacy to becoming this year's Avatar. That's a lofty goal for the sequel to Tron, which made just $33 million (around $89 million adjusted for ticket price inflation) when it was released in 1982. While the original movie surely has some kind of following, it's questionable how substantial it really is. Add in the fact that Disney isn't re-releasing the original on DVD and Blu-ray, and it's possible the average moviegoer isn't even aware this is a sequel. Despite all of this confusion, over 40 percent of Box Office Mojo users list Tron Legacy as their top choice to see in December, though that's only been accurate in predicting the top-grossing movie once in the last four months.

By mixing CGI stars with human actors, Yogi Bear is looking to reach the same audience that drove the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies to over $217 million each. Yogi Bear probably doesn't have as much built in popularity as the Chipmunks, though, and the movie lacks the strong musical angle that helped make Alvin such a success. Regardless, when put up against Gulliver's Travels for family audiences, Yogi Bear seems like the safer bet.

How Do You Know is director James L. Brooks' first movie since Spanglish, which disappointed with only $42.7 million six years ago. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Paul Rudd and Jack Nicholson, this one hopes to be more like Mr. Brooks' As Good as It Gets, which earned $148.5 million (or over $250 million adjusted for inflation). Considering this is the holiday's only official romantic comedy, How Do You Know is poised for at least solid earnings.

In limited release, Kevin Spacey stars as disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff in Casino Jack; it will be interesting to see how first-time distributor ATO Pictures handles this release. Lionsgate opens Rabbit Hole, which has been building steam since a strong reception at the Toronto International Film Festival. The Nicole Kidman-Aaron Eckhart drama has planned expansions on Dec. 24 and Jan. 14.

Dec. 22

Six years after Meet the Fockers became the second-highest grossing comedy of all-time ($279.3 million), Little Fockers finally reaches theaters on Wednesday, Dec. 22. While the first two movies in the series featured the clear, relatable premise of meeting a significant other's parents, Little Fockers previews have been pushing an assortment of hit-or-miss jokes without any unifying plot. Add in the fact that audiences were generally lukewarm on Meet the Fockers and it's doubtful Little Fockers comes anywhere close to matching that movie's total.

While Yogi Bear is attempting to fill in for Alvin and the Chipmunks this holiday season, Gulliver's Travels, which features Jack Black marooned on an island filled with tiny people, could be considered this year's Night at the Museum. That Ben Stiller comedy opened on the same day four years ago and ultimately grossed $250.9 million, though it had a more unique premise and an arguably more bankable star.

Reportedly an adaptation of the Charles Portis novel instead of a remake of the 1969 John Wayne movie, the Coen Brothers' True Grit aims to reinvigorate the long-dormant Western genre. This seems like a follow-up of sorts to their 2007 hit No Country for Old Men, which earned $74.3 million and four Oscar wins (including Best Picture and Best Director). The first reviews indicate that an Oscar repeat is probably unlikely, though advertisements that focus on Jeff Bridges and plenty of gunplay should draw in a somewhat substantial older male audience.

Country Strong and Somewhere open in limited engagements on Dec. 22 as well. Country Strong looks like a female version of Crazy Heart ($39.5 million) from last year, with Gwyneth Paltrow filling in for Jeff Bridges. It's expected to expand nationwide on Jan. 7. Somewhere appears to be director Sofia Coppola's follow-up to Lost in Translation ($44.6 million), though early reviews have been much less enthusiastic.

Dec. 29

Following the norm, the last week of December lacks any new nationwide releases, allowing breathing room for the holiday movies, but it does see a few limited releases. Blue Valentine, starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, was a festival hit earlier this year, but could struggle unless distributor Weinstein Company succeeds in its petition to get the movie's NC-17 rating knocked down to an R. Biutiful also opens, though Javier Bardem's awards-worthy performance may not be enough to get audiences to tolerate the foreign language and the dreary plot. Finally, Mike Leigh's Another Year debuts, and distributor Sony Pictures Classics will likely aim for grosses similar to Leigh's past two efforts (Vera Drake and Happy-Go-Lucky both finished in the $3 million range).

Related Stories

2010 Preview: 'The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader'

2010 Preview: 'Tron Legacy'

2010 Preview: 'Little Fockers'

2010 Preview: 'True Grit'

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