Forecast: 'Sherlock,' 'Alvin,' 'M:I' Sequels Try to Save Box Office
Midnight Update: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows earned an estimated $1.25 million from midnight shows, or just a fraction of the $3.5 million that Avatar and Tron Legacy debuted to on the same weekends in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, on the other hand, opened to $1.1 million from evening and midnight shows yesterday, which is a strong start at just 425 locations. That's the same as Mission: Impossible III's midnight-only gross on over 2,000 screens in 2006.

Weekend Forecast: After one of the worst weekends in years, the box office should get a big boost with not one, or two, but three major sequels hitting theaters. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows opens at 3,703 locations and is all-but-guaranteed a first place finish, while Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked tries to reach family audiences at 3,723 venues. Meanwhile, Paramount is employing an interesting strategy with Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol by rolling it out in to 425 theaters this weekend, 300 of which are IMAX. Finally, after a decent limited debut Young Adult expands in to 986 theaters.

The first Sherlock Holmes was a surprise blockbuster, opening to $62.3 million over Christmas weekend in 2009 on its way to a $209 million total. The sequel arrives two years later and ups the ante by adding Holmes's legendary nemesis Professor Moriarty, though that conflict hasn't consumed the marketing campaign the way the Joker's introduction did for The Dark Knight. Instead, the campaign has centered around the playful banter between the two leads (Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law) and action set-pieces set on a train and in a wooded area. While this all looks fine, it doesn't appear to go far enough to differentiate the movie from its predecessor. With sequels getting pummeled lately, there's an awfully good chance that this winds up opening below the original's $62.3 million.

The Alvin and the Chipmunks series has been one of the most consistently successful franchises in recent memory. The first two movies hit theaters around this time in 2007 and 2009 and earned $217.3 million and $219.6 million, respectively. The latest movie mixes things up sufficiently by stranding the Chipmunks on a deserted island (hence the title Chipwrecked), and Fox made the wise decision to spare family audiences some money by passing on a 3D conversion. Unfortunately, all family sequels this year have fallen way short of their predecessors (37 percent decline on average), and it's hard to imagine Chipwrecked being the movie that bucks this trend. Distributor 20th Century Fox is expecting mid-to-high $20 millions for the weekend.

In the first release of its kind, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is opening exclusively at IMAX and select theaters this weekend ahead of its nationwide debut on Wednesday. Directed by Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille), the movie has roughly 30 minutes of footage in the IMAX format, including a heavily-promoted sequence that finds star Tom Cruise scaling the tallest building in the world (the Burj Khalifa in Dubai). It's pretty clear that the entire IMAX strategy is meant to reinvigorate a franchise that took a big hit with its last entry: Mission: Impossible III opened to $47.7 million before finishing with $134 million back in May 2006, which was way off from Mission: Impossible II's $215.4 million. Aside from the addition of IMAX, the movie appears to hew closely to the previous entries, with the "mission goes wrong, blame is placed on Ethan Hunt" plot being oddly reminiscent of the first Mission: Impossible.

Recent major releases in IMAX 2D include Fast Five ($32,787 average) and Inception ($36,548 average), though the Fast and the Furious franchise and Christopher Nolan movies are probably more popular than Mission: Impossible at this point. Ghost Protocol does have some Nolan power, though, as a prologue for The Dark Knight Rises is attached at over 40 locations.

Young Adult debuted to $310,263 at eight locations last weekend, which is an okay start that doesn't really give a good indication of the movie's future prospects. Reviews so far have been solid, but not spectacular, and the awards chatter has almost entirely died down (with the exception of Charlize Theron's performance). A light nationwide debut seems inevitable this weekend, and it will take strong word-of-mouth to propel the movie through a crowded Holiday season.

Forecast (Dec. 16-18)

1. Sherlock Holmes 2 - $59.8 million

2. Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked - $29 million

3. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol - $9.5 million

4. New Year's Eve - $8.1 million (-38%)

5. The Sitter - $5.6 million (-43%)

-. Young Adult - $4.4 million

Bar for Success

As it's the first sequel and introduces a key villain, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows needs to end up around its predecessor's $62.3 million debut. Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked can drop off a bit from the Squeakquel's $48.8 million start, though anything below the mid-$30-millions is disappointing. Mission: Impossible is in great shape if it opens around $10 million, while Young Adult gets a strong jump on the Holiday season if it winds up north of $5 million.

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