Forecast: 'Guardians,' 'Pi' Target Family Audiences Over Thanksgiving
As usual, Thanksgiving weekend is shaping up to be a very busy one at the box office. Family audiences will get to choose between Rise of the Guardians and Life of Pi, with the DreamWorks Animation movie sure to win out. Meanwhile, the long-delayed Red Dawn remake finally hits theaters, and will hope to take advantage of the newfound star status of Chris Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson. Even with all of these new entries, though, the top movie will once again be The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, which could be at around $230 million by Sunday.

At 3,653 locations (2,900 of which will be feature 3D or IMAX presentations), Rise of the Guardians is almost certainly going to be the highest-grossing movie among the new releases this weekend. The movie features an Avengers-like team-up of fantasy characters like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and Jack Frost, though the marketing has mainly emphasized Santa and his elves. That seems like a good move: with the exception of last year's Arthur Christmas, movies about Santa Claus do very well around this time of year, and younger children will be drawn in by the elves' pratfalls (which appear inspired by the Minions in Despicable Me).

Rise of the Guardians is facing direct competition from Life of Pi and Wreck-It Ralph, though, and its unique animation style makes it a slightly tougher sell than more standard animated fare. Paramount is currently forecasting around $35 million for the five-day weekend.

Life of Pi, adapted from Yann Martel's international bestseller of the same name, debuts at 2,902 theaters on Wednesday, 2,633 of which will play the movie in 3D. The movie is receiving generally strong reviews, and for a while the marketing was pushing a quote that claimed Life of Pi was "the next Avatar." From a box office perspective, though, it's more likely to be the next Hugo. That movie also opened on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, featured a dose of magical realism, had a young protagonist dealing with isolation, and was an acclaimed filmmaker's first foray in to 3D (Martin Scorsese for Hugo, Ang Lee for Pi). Hugo had a $15.4 million five-day start last year; Life of Pi is reaching over twice as many theaters initially, though, and the book was much more popular. As a result, the movie should break $20 million for the five-day frame (Fox is expecting high-teen-millions).

Nearly three years after completing principal photography, the Red Dawn remake is finally reaching theaters (2,679 theaters, to be exact). The lengthy delay is being blamed on producer MGM's bankruptcy issues, though there was also the minor issue of having to change the invading force from China to North Korea in post-production. In comparison, the 1984 original (which earned $38.4 million, or $90.7 million adjusted for ticket price inflation) featured Russians as the villains, which brings to mind the biggest issue with this remake: in 1984, the notion of Russia invading the U.S. was far-fetched, but they were at least a global power, and the Cold War was still technically going on. While North Korea has been antagonistic towards the U.S., they don't even have the wherewithal to cause much trouble in Asia, much less stage an invasion of the U.S.

Since the central conflict is blatantly absurd, the marketing has instead relied on vague patriotism, which just isn't as compelling. It's also emphasized the presence of Chris Hemsworth (Thor, Huntsman) and (to a lesser extent) Josh Hutcherson (Peeta), though star power tends to be an overrated indicator of box office potential. Distributor FilmDistrict is hoping for a debut in the high-teen-millions for the five-day weekend.

Silver Linings Playbook was supposed to open nationwide on Wednesday, but is instead expanding to only 367 theaters after earning a mediocre $443,003 from 16 locations this past weekend. The David O. Russell comedy, which stars A-listers Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, has been receiving great reviews and plenty of awards buzz, but the tone-deaf advertisements and confused release pattern aren't doing the movie any favors. It should at least do well enough this weekend to crack the Top 10, though that's a minor consolation at this point.

On Friday, Hitchcock reaches 17 theaters, while Rust and Bone opens in New York and Los Angeles. With all the offerings currently out there for adults, it's hard to imagine either of these movies bursting out of the gate, though their respective studios (Fox Searchlight and Sony Pictures Classics) will surely work out solid expansions between now and Christmas.

Forecast (Nov. 23-25)

1. Breaking Dawn Part 2 - $45 million ($68.2 million five-day)

2. Skyfall - $34.2 million ($50 million)

3. Rise of the Guardians - $32 million ($45.5 million)

4. Lincoln - $17.9 million ($24.5 million)

5. Wreck-It Ralph - $17 million ($23.3 million)

6. Life of Pi - $15 million ($21.1 million)

7. Red Dawn - $10.6 million ($14.8 million)

Bar for Success

Rise of the Guardians needs to earn at least $40 million for the five-day weekend—that would put it in line with last year's The Muppets, but still a far cry from 2010's Tangled. Life of Pi is in fine shape at $20 million, while Red Dawn needs at least $15 million.

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