Holiday 2012 Forecast
The final two months of the year typically deliver some of the biggest box office of the year, and the 2012 holiday season will fit nicely in to this mold thanks to guaranteed blockbusters The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 and Skyfall. The prospects for the rest of the movies, like Life of Pi, Django Unchained and This Is 40, are less certain. It does at least look likely that the season as a whole will be strong enough to propel 2012 to a new yearly record.

Here are some predictions for the Top 12 titles, followed by a look at the rest of the movies in nationwide release.

Top 12 Forecast

1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Dec. 14)

The Lord of the Rings franchise earned over $1 billion at the domestic box office between 2001 and 2003, and the conclusion (Return of the King) racked up 11 Academy Award wins. The series still has a lot of goodwill, which should carry over to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Still, franchise reboots and prequels tend to fall a bit short of their predecessors, and the lower stakes and confusing adaptation strategy (One children's book in to three movies? Really?) will keep The Hobbit from matching Return of the King's $377 million. Forecast: $330 million

2. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (Nov. 16)

The last Twilight movie earned $281.3 million, which was a bit off from Eclipse's franchise-high $300.5 million. Breaking Dawn Part 2 should wind up significantly higher, though, thanks to its final chapter status (similar to what happened with Harry Potter and the Star Wars prequels), and will likely set a new record. Forecast: $320 million

3. Skyfall (Nov. 9)

The latest James Bond movie arrives four years after Quantum of Solace set a new franchise record ($168.4 million) while bumming tons of fans out with its relentless, forgettable action and meandering, convoluted story. Historically, though, the reception for the last entry hasn't really affected the performance of the next one: Die Another Day is widely reviled, but that didn't stop Casino Royale from setting a new record in 2006. With killer previews, an Adele theme song that's getting tons of radio play, and some of the best reviews in the franchise's history, expect a new high mark to be set by Skyfall. Forecast: $185 million

4. Wreck-It Ralph (Nov. 2)

The first weekend of November is a go-to release date for animated movies, and over the past few years total grosses have ranged from Bee Movie on the low end with $126.6 million to Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa on the high end ($180 million). With a marketing campaign that nicely mixes video game references for adults and flashy characters and imagery for kids, chances are that Wreck-It Ralph winds up on the upper end of that range. Forecast: $155 million

5. Rise of the Guardians (Nov. 21)

Movies featuring Santa timed around Christmas have historically been a slam dunk at the box office—that is, until Arthur Christmas bombed with just $46 million last year after opening in the same pre-Thanksgiving spot as Rise of the Guardians, which also features St. Nick. DreamWorks Animation has more experience turning out hits than Sony Pictures Animation, though, and should at least be able to get this movie past $100 million. Still, don't expect How to Train Your Dragon grosses unless the movie turns out to be way better than it looks. Forecast: $130 million

6. Les Miserables (Dec. 25)

Les Miserables is currently well-positioned as the classy Holiday choice: it has the acclaimed director (The King's Speech's Tom Hooper) and cast and is based on one of the most beloved musicals in recent memory. If it winds up being a major Oscar contender (and it's hard to imagine it doesn't), then look out. Forecast: $125 million

7. Django Unchained (Dec. 25)

Writer-director Quentin Tarantino is coming off Inglourious Basterds, which is his highest-grossing movie ever at $120.5 million. In many ways, Django seems like a natural follow-up: Tarantino is once again setting a revenge tale in a period setting, and has Christoph Waltz back in a major role. He also has Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson, making this one of his strongest casts ever. Unfortunately, long, violent R-rated movies don't necessarily live up to their potential around Christmas, as proved last year by The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ($102.5 million), and therefore Django should fall short of Basterds. Forecast: $105 million

8. Silver Linings Playbook (Nov. 21)

Director David O. Russell's follow-up to The Fighter ($93.6 million) got phenomenal reviews out of the Toronto International Film Festival, and it's being pegged as an Oscar front-runner. Having seen it myself, I can say without a doubt that it's the sort of crowd-pleasing romantic comedy that may start slow, but will hold up throughout the month of December. The "R" rating might hold it back a bit, but it's going to play very well with adults, as well as older teens who are fans of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence from their franchise work. Forecast: $100 million

9. Life of Pi (Nov. 21)

In a lot of ways, Life of Pi is similar to last November's Hugo: both are opening on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, both are based on a children's book, both have plenty of Oscar buzz and both find acclaimed directors working with 3D for the first time. Life of Pi is a much more popular book, though, and should therefore earn more than Hugo ($73.9 million). Forecast: $95 million

10. Jack Reacher (Dec. 21)

Jack Reacher seemed like a no-brainer a few months ago: the Lee Child series that the movie is based on is incredibly popular, and star Tom Cruise appeared to have his mojo back thanks to the impressive performance of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol ($209.4 million). Unfortunately, Cruise's image has taken a major hit in the wake of his divorce from Katie Holmes, and Jack Reacher's trailers have been underwhelming to say the least. Fans of the character will turn out, but in a competitive season it's likely that Reacher winds up just above Cruise's last two original action movies, Valkyrie ($83.1 million) and Knight & Day ($76.4 million). Forecast: $90 million

11. This Is 40 (Dec. 21)

Judd Apatow's first two directorial outings, The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, were both huge box office hits with $109.4 million and $148.8 million, respectively. Funny People was much less successful, though, with just $51.9 million. This is 40 serves as the "sort-of sequel" to Knocked Up, so the hope is obviously that the movie can retain a large amount of that movie's audience. Unfortunately, the mid-life malaise of Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann's characters just isn't as interesting as Knocked Up's unexpected pregnancy, and the end of the year is jam-packed with appealing offerings for adults (including Universal's own Les Miserables). Forecast: $85 million

12. Flight (Nov. 2)

After nearly 12 years away from live action, Robert Zemeckis returns to the format with pilot drama Flight. If anyone knows how to turn an original story in to box office gold, it's Zemeckis: his last four live-action movies combined for nearly $820 million at the domestic box office, and all four were original. The "R" rating and dark subject material are going to keep Flight from truly breaking out, but star Denzel Washington's fans are accustomed to such movies, as his top four outings from the last decade are all rated "R." Throw in some good reviews, and Flight should perform well enough. Forecast: $75 million

Continued with a look at other nationwide releases, and some limited picks >>

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