Box Office: 'American Hustle' Catching Up With 'Wolf of Wall Street'

10:26 PM PST 12/26/2013 by Pamela McClintock

UPDATED: "Hobbit 2" stays No. 1 overall the day after Christmas, while "47 Ronin" and Justin Bieber concert pic "Believe" bomb.

Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street and David O. Russell's holdover American Hustle -- both critical and award darlings -- are in a close race at the Thursday box office, with both films expected to gross in the $6 million to $6.5 million range for the day. Wolf, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is ultimately expected to pull ahead by $200,000 to $300,000 to take the No. 4 spot.

Elsewhere, Universal's ill-fated 47 Ronin and Justin Bieber concert pic Believe are flailing. Nor is Warner Bros.' geriatric Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro comedy Grudge Match finding much traction (like Wolf, all three films opened on Christmas day).

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Topping Thursday overall are three holdovers -- Warner Bros.' The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Disney's family hit Frozen and Paramount's Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. The trio of films are expected to take in an estimated $10 million, $9 million and $7 million, respectively.

Wolf of Wall Street, one of six films launching nationwide on Dec. 25, ended its first day in a virtual tie with Desolation of Smaug (it isn't unusual for a film opening on the holiday to slip on its second day, particularly an R-rated film such as Wolf). Scorsese's film, fully financed for $100 million by Red Granite Pictures, stars DiCaprio as Wall Street bad-boy Jordan Belfort.

Paramount is releasing and marketing Wolf of Wall Street, which barely received an R rating (Scorsese agreed to trim certain sex scenes in order to avoid getting slapped with an NC-17). The big question is whether the movie, expected to do especially well on both coasts, will play in America's heartland (the film's C CinemaScore could be an indication of the split). Sporting a running time of two hours and 59 minutes, Wolf marks Scorsese's longest film by a minute, topping Casino.

Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle are among a crowded menu of awards contenders looking to build their profile over the year-end holidays. 20th Century Fox's Christmas Day entry The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, directed by and starring Ben Stiller, is holding at No. 6 on its second day with a gross in the $5 million range, not far ahead of Disney holdover Saving Mr. Banks.

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47 Ronin looks to come in No. 8 on its second day with less than $4 million. The samurai epic, starring Keanu Reeves and costing at least $175 million to produce, is destined to lose a substantial amount of money, considering it needs to earn hundreds of millions of dollars globally. The movie, originally set to open in November 2012, is off to a soft start in several key Asian markets, including Japan, and it could have trouble reaching $20 million in its five-day domestic debut. Universal co-financed the film with Elliott Management.

Universal has known the film was troubled financially for quite some time and says it has already accounted for a potential loss. "Universal Pictures regularly evaluates its film slate for potential adjustment. In the case of 47 Ronin, we adjusted film costs in previous quarters and as a result our financial performance will not be negatively impacted this quarter by its theatrical performance," the studio said in a statement.

Grudge Match, about a pair of aging boxers who decide to take each other on one last time, may come in No. 10 or No. 11 on Thursday, with earnings in the $2 million range.

Bieber's Believe isn't even cracking the top 10 and may have trouble grossing $10 million in its first five days. The documentary is holding at No. 13 on Thursday with a tepid $1 million. In February 2011, Beiber concert doc Never Say Never opened in more than 3,000 theaters to a strong $29.5 million.

Believe, costing $5 million to make, is getting a low-key release and is only playing in roughly 1,000 theaters. Distributor Open Road Films also kept its marketing spend to a modest $5 million.

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