'Earth' people: Make us your leader

Remake will achieve victory but isn't headed for world domination; specialty biz is busy

Hollywood is still waiting to unwrap most of its Christmas offerings, but the boxoffice should get an early present this weekend as Fox launches the sci-fi-themed "The Day the Earth Stood Still" in 3,559 theaters, including 123 Imax screens.

The PG-13 remake, directed by Scott Derrickson ("The Exorcism of Emily Rose"), combines a classic title — the original 1951 movie — with civilization-threatening special effects that suggest images from such previous Fox hits as "Independence Day" and "The Day After Tomorrow."

Keanu Reeves plays an otherworldly visitor as the actor returns to the sci-fi arena that served him well with the "Matrix" movies and "Constantine." As an added attraction to further entice fanboys to rush the multiplexes, Fox has attached a first-look trailer for "X-Men Origins: Wolverine."

If "Earth" were a summer movie, it probably would enjoy a gangbusters weekend. The pre-Christmas frame is another matter, but with "Quantum of Solace" heading into its fifth weekend, there's room for a new actioner.

Last year in the comparable frame, the dystopian "I Am Legend" opened to a stellar $77.2 million. But that movie starred Will Smith, considered a boxoffice phenomenon unto himself. The conservative bets see "Earth" opening in the mid-$20 million range. But other prognosticators foresee it moving into the $30 million- $40 million territory.

Overture Films introduces "Nothing Like the Holidays" in 1,671 theaters. Directed by Alfredo De Villa, the PG-13 comedy-drama visits a Puerto Rican clan as they assemble for one last Christmas together in the family home in Chicago. John Leguizamo leads the ensemble cast as the son who brings his high-maintenance wife (Debra Messing); Elizabeth Pena and Alfred Molina appear as the battling parents.

The film is shaping up as a nice niche play that could score a $5 million-$6 million opening, which could make it No. 4 or No. 5.

While Disney's "Bolt," in its fourth weekend, should continue to reach out to the family audience, Freestyle Releasing will attempt to find traction for its CG-animated "Delgo," a PG-rated fantasy adventure from Atlanta-based Fathom Studios. It's probably fated, though, for an opening in the lower-single-digit millions.

There will be lots of activity on the specialty front. Three awards hopefuls — Miramax's "Doubt," the Weinstein Co.'s "The Reader" and Warner Bros.' "Gran Torino" — make their debuts, while "Milk," "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Frost/Nixon" add screens. Weinstein's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," armed with its four Golden Globe noms, returns to 28 screens in North America.

The epic "Che," from IFC Films, slips into New York and Los Angeles for a one-week Oscar-qualifying run. (partialdiff)