Box Office Preview: 'The Muppets' Likely to Win Thanksgiving Family Feud

 Scott Garfield/Disney Enterprises

Disney's The Muppets appear to be anything but washed up.

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According to box office tracking, the family film holds a safe lead over the other two new Thanksgiving films, Sony and Aardman's Arthur Christmas and Paramount's Hugo, directed by Martin Scorsese. All three films open nationwide on Wednesday, hoping to feast on Thanksgiving holiday traffic.

The Muppets, starring Jason Segel and Amy Adams opposite the iconic puppets, is headed for a $40 million or better five day debut. Holdover The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn--Part 1 could win the Thanksgiving box office overall, but Muppets should be able to claim a victorious start for Disney, which made the film for a modest $45 million.

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Disney bought the rights to The Muppets in 2004, and returning the puppets to fame has been a priority for Walt Disney Studios chairman Rich Ross, who wants to create a new generation of fans. The studio's marketing division has enlisted the entire Disney empire in plugging the film, as well as arranging a White House screening of the movie for military families on Tuesday that Segel hosted.

Arthur Christmas is projected to open in the mid to high teens for the five days. Sony is hopeful that the 3D film will be a slow burn and have strong legs throughout December because of its Christmas theme, and points out it doesn't have the brand recognition that Muppets enjoys since its an original property.

Arthur Christmas, which answers the question of how Santa Claus delivers toys all over the world in one night, has already grossed north of $10 in four markets overseas, the bullk of which was earned in the U.K., home of Aardman.This weekend, it continues to roll out overseas, including in Japan, France, Korea and New Zealand.

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It's unclear where Warner Bros. holdover Happy Feet Two will land over the Thanksgiving holiday after opening to a disappointing $21.2 million last weekend.

Hugo is Scorsese's first family film, as well as his first 3D title. Produced by Graham King and distributed by Paramount, Hugo--which cost north of $100 million to produce--is expected to open in the low teens for the five days. 

Paramount has decided to go with a slow roll out, and will only open Hugo in some 1,200 theaters, compared to more than 3,000 locations for Muppets and Arthur Christmas. That's because Hugo is expected to play a bit older than a regular family film, as well as appeal to a more sophisticated audience.

By scaling back Hugo's initial footprint, Paramount hopes to ride the wave of good reviews and awards attention as December gets underway, much as it did last year with True Grit, which was released over Christmas, and became a box office success.

Hugo isn't alone in sporting rave reviews--in an unusual Thanksgiving twist, The Muppets and Arthur Christmas also are criticial darlings (Muppets boasted a 100 percent fresh rating on RottenTomatoes.com as of Thursday afternoon).

The specialty box office also sees several high-profile debuts.

On Wednesday, the Weinstein Co. opens Michelle Williams starrer My Week with Marilyn in 123 theaters in 12 markets before expanding into an additional 61 markets on Friday, bringing the film's total theater count to 224. The smaller roll out on Wednesday is designed to give the film some breathing room from Fox Searchlight's The Descendants, which expands into a total of 400 theaters on Thanksgiving eve.

Also on Wednesday, Sony Pictures Classics launches David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method, starring Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley and Viggo Mortensen, in four theaters in New York and Los Angeles.

Friday brings the New York-Los Angeles debut of the critically acclaimed French silent film The Artist, which the Weinstein Co. opens in four theaters in those two cities.

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