Box Office Preview: The Christmas Cavalcade Begins, But Will Moviegoers Turn Up?

"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"
Sony Pictures

Craig as Mikael Blomkvist in a scene from the film.

Six new nationwide releases open, beginning Tuesday night with "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."

As Christmas nears, Hollywood will begin its 11th hour fight to restore luster to the domestic box office as no fewer than six nationwide releases look to grab the attention of holiday moviegoers.
But whether the film business finds coal — or bounty — remains to be seen. And unless the returns are miraculous between now and New Year’s weekend, it’s unlikely that the 4 percent gap in domestic box office revenues will close after three miserable weekends and an overall rocky 2011.

PHOTOS: 'Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol' Dubai Premiere Red Carpet Arrivals
With Christmas falling on a Sunday, Saturday will be a wash in terms of moviegoing. Conversely, Monday is a national holiday, meaning a potentially busy box office, while Christmas day can also be lucrative in the afternoon and evening. And with college students on break and more and more kids out of school each day this week, traffic should be strong Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. One of the most lucrative weeks of the year in terms of multiplex traffic is the Christmas to New Year’s stretch.
Three films are getting a jump on Christmas by opening nationwide mid-week: David Fincher’s English-language remake The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Brad Bird’s Tom Cruise starrer Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol and Steven Spielberg’s 3D family film The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.
Sony’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, based on the blockbuster book trilogy and Swedish film, opened Tuesday night at 7 p.m. Sony believes the R-rated film, starring Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara and Christopher Plummer, will be the choice for adults and couples over the holidays.

PHOTOS: 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' Premiere
And tracking disproves speculation that Dragon Tattoo is lagging with older women; females over 25 are just as interested in Fincher’s film as men over 25. Sony also has been trying to pump up awareness among younger adults in the 17-to-34 age range.
The likely victor of the extended Christmas weekend is Ghost Protocol, which expands nationwide on Wednesday after limited sneaks in Imax and other large-format screens. The previews have brought in a stellar $15.4 million since Friday, and triggered strong reviews.
Skydance Productions partnered with Paramount in co-financing Ghost Protocol, which cost north of $125 million to produce and introduces Jeremy Renner to the spy franchise.
Still, nothing is a given, considering the volatile marketplace. Warner Bros.’ Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, which opened Friday to a lower-than-hoped for $39.6 million, could pick up momentum and compete with Ghost Protocol for No. 1. As of Monday, the film’s domestic gross was $44.6 million.
Tracking suggests Ghost Protocol and Game of Shadows will gross in the $35 million-$40 million range for the Wednesday-Sunday stretch. Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is expected to come in No. 3.

FILM REVIEW: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Tintin — already an international hit, having grossed $240 million at the foreign box office — will compete with Fox’s Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked for family audiences. Alvin got off to a notably sluggish start on Friday, potentially giving Tintin more of an opening with families, although Alvin picked up on Tuesday.
Paramount and Sony partnered on Tintin, with Paramount handling domestic distribution duties and some international territories (Sony is handling the majority of foreign markets). The studios decided to open the pic overseas first because of the popularity of the character, created by Belgian artist Herge, in Europe and elsewhere.

PHOTOS: Steven Spielberg's 'The Adventures of Tintin'
Fox opens Cameron Crowe’s all-audience title We Bought a Zoo on Friday, followed on Christmas Day by DreamWorks and Disney's War Horse, Steven Spielberg’s second holiday film, and Summit Entertainment’s 3D sci-fi action thriller The Darkest Hour, which hopes to get adults.
Darkest Hour,
which revolves around five young people stranded in Moscow after an alien attack, is a Summit and New Regency co-production. Fox is distributing the film internationally.

PHOTOS: 10 Biggest Book-to-Big Screen Adaptations of the Last 25 Years

According to a poll, Ghost Protocol and Dragon Tattoo are the most anticipated new nationwide releases of Christmas weekend at 26.8 percent and 26 percent, respectively. War Horse follows at 18.8 percent, We Bought a Zoo at 12.2 percent, Tintin at 11.9 percent and Darkest Hour at 3.3 percent.
A separate poll revealed that over half of moviegoers planning to see a film on Christmas Day plan to take their families. The results were compiled following a week-long survey of those visiting the company’s website.

The specialty box office also heats up on Friday as Warner Bros. bows Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close in select markets, while The Artist makes a major expansion, playing in more than 150 theaters. My Week With Marilyn also expands, set to play in a total of 400 theaters. Both Artist and Marilyn are from the Weinstein Co.