Christmas Preview: 'M:I-4,' 'Dragon Tattoo' to Lead Crowded Holiday
In one of the most crowded holiday seasons in recent memory, no fewer than seven movies are either opening in or expanding in to nationwide release this weekend. That's in addition to Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, which should both continue to have a strong presence. With so many offerings for audiences, the remainder of 2011 will almost certainly mark an improvement over a comparatively quiet 2010 holiday season.

Coming off Mission: Impossible III's disappointing $134 million gross, and factoring in star Tom Cruise's apparently declining star power over the past few years, it comes as a bit of a surprise that Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol has become the movie to see this season. After earning $12.8 million from just 425 locations this weekend, the fourth installment in the espionage franchise expanded in to 3,448 theaters on Wednesday and took first place with $8.92 million (that does include grosses from Tuesday night showings as well). Riding some of the best reviews of the season (it's currently 93 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) and strong word-of-mouth coming out of its initial IMAX run, the movie should continue to play well throughout the weekend, and will likely have amassed a total north of $70 million through Monday.

Debuting at 2,914 locations, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo placed second on Wednesday with $5.07 million, which includes $1.6 million from late Tuesday and midnight showings. Cleverly dubbed early on as "The Feel Bad Movie of Christmas," Dragon Tattoo has had an exciting, ever-present marketing campaign that has gone a long way to exciting the book's fan base while alleviating some of the concerns of remaking the Swedish-language movie that earned over $10 million last year. Clocking in at 160 minutes and featuring an abundance of horrific imagery, the movie probably won't get off to a huge start, though it will likely end up in the mid-$30 million range by Monday.

The Adventures of Tintin had a somewhat slow $2.3 million debut at 3,087 locations on Wednesday, and including previous grosses from French Canada the movie has so far made $5.6 million. The Steven Spielberg animated movie was always going to be a tough sell to U.S. audiences who are largely unfamiliar with the title character and have at least recently hesitated to attend motion capture animated movies, though with $237 million in overseas coin already collected it's unlikely the movie needs to be all that successful stateside anyway. With older adventure-craving audiences likely to head to Mission: Impossible or Sherlock Holmes and younger families seeking out Alvin and the Chipmunks and possibly We Bought a Zoo, Tintin is probably in line for no more than $20 million or so for the six-day weekend.

Speaking of We Bought a Zoo, the comedy/drama intends to reach family audiences when it opens at 3,117 theaters on Friday. Bullish on the movie's broad appeal, distributor 20th Century Fox arranged nationwide screenings on Saturday, November 26 and again on Saturday, December 10 in an attempt to gin up strong word-of-mouth. That seems to have worked to some extent, and a feel-good original movie should be a welcome respite from sequels like Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. Still, there's just too much competition to expect the movie to break out of the $10-15 million range for the Friday-Monday period.

War Horse and The Darkest Hour are waiting until Christmas Day to open at 2,376 and 2,324 theaters, respectively. War Horse is Steven Spielberg's second movie to come out within five days, though it seems much more within his wheelhouse than the animated Tintin. With its World War I setting and horse protagonist, the movie is going to be harder for audiences to latch on to than Spielberg's most-famous war movie, Saving Private Ryan, though it is probably in much better shape than Munich. That movie opened to $6.04 million from Friday-Monday at the same time in 2005; War Horse should come close to that amount on just Sunday and Monday.

Alien invasion movie The Darkest Hour is being positioned as counter-programming to the wave of more traditional holiday fare, though it continues to look like the movie most likely to get lost in the crowd. According to a Summit spokesperson, The Darkest Hour is poised for $2-3 million on Sunday and $4-5 million for the Sunday and Monday period.

After already earning $6.3 million in limited release, My Week with Marilyn reaches a barely-wide 602 theaters this weekend. The movie won't come close to cracking the Top 12, but with Oscar buzz surrounding star Michelle Williams performance it should continue to put up decent numbers throughout the next few weeks.

Related Stories:

Last Weekend's Forecast: 'Sherlock, 'Alvin,' 'M:I' Sequels Try to Save Box Office

Mixed Bag for 2011 Sequels

Holiday Preview