Box Office Preview: 'Sherlock Holmes,' 'Alvin' Installments Kick Off Christmas Parade

"Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"

Elsewhere, "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" opens in hundreds of IMAX theaters in advance of its Dec. 23 bow, while a slew of awards contenders hope to get a boost from Golden Globe and SAG nominations.

Hollywood is hopeful that Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked -- the first of the year-end tentpoles to open nationwide -- will breathe life back into the domestic box office after the worst weekend in years.

Also opening in 425 IMAX and large format theaters is Tom Cruise starrer Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, the latest entry in Paramount's hit franchise. Paramount is using the sneaks to build buzz among diehard fans in advance of the movie's official debut on Dec. 21. Brad Bird directed the film, which also stars Jeremy Renner.

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Warner Bros.' Sherlock Holmes, returning Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law in the title roles and introducing Noomi Repace to the cast, is widely expected to rule the weekend with a gross in the $40 million to $50 million range. The original Sherlock Holmes opened to $62.3 million after debuting Dec. 25, 2009, but that film had the advantage of the year-end holidays being fully underway (the week between Christmas and New Year's is considered primetime).

Fox is being conservative in its estimate for Chip-Wrecked, citing the overall soft box office. The first Alvin and the Chipmunks debuted to $44.3 million on the same weekend in 2007, while Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel debuted to $48.9 million on Dec. 23, 2009. Fox is projecting an opening for Chip-Wrecked in the mid- to high-$20 million range.

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Ghost Protocol coud gross $5 million to $7 million, including grosses from Thursday midnight runs. The pic's theater count this weekend includes 300 IMAX screens and 125 large format screens.

Also on Friday, Jason Reitman's black comedy Young Adult, headlining Charlize Theron, will make a major push in its second weekend, expanding its theater count from eight theaters to 985. Scripted by Diablo Cody -- who teamed with Reitman on Juno -- the Paramount film could earn $3 million to $4 million.

Young Adult is among a number of awards contenders hoping to spin Golden Globe and other key nominations into box office love (Theron landed a Golden Globe nom on Thursday for best actress in a musical or comedy).

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In terms of films still playing at the box office, the Weinstein Co.'s The Artist and Fox Searchlight's The Descendants have turned into awards frontrunners and could see a boost in business. Paramount's Hugo and the Weinstein Co.'s My Week With Marilyn also are poised to benefit, while Focus Features' Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Fox Searchlight's Shame could as well.

Specialty openings include Roman Polanski's Carnage, which Sony Pictures Classics opens in five theaters.