Box office preview: 'Jack Reacher' leads new releases, but can't compete with 'The Hobbit'

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Whether or not the world ends tomorrow, things are looking pretty dire for the four new wide releases entering theaters this weekend: Jack Reacher, This is 40, The Guilt Trip, and Monsters Inc. 3D. Of course, December movies need not earn gargantuan grosses on their debut weekends to eventually end up with respectable totals. In 2010, Yogi Bear opened with a weak $16.4 million, but thanks to easy accessibility over the holiday season, when kids are out of school and adults off of work, the film eventually topped out at $100.2 million.

Studios will be hoping for similar endurance from this week’s crop of newcomers — none of them are tracking particularly well, and all of them will likely be crushed by the second weekend of The Hobbit. Here’s how I think the box office might shake out over the Friday-to-Sunday period:

1. The Hobbit – $37 million

The Warner Bros. release has earned $106.5 million in its first six days (for reference, The Return of the King had earned $137.6 million in the same period of time), and it will likely drop by about 55 percent this weekend to $37 million, which would lift its total to about $150 million after ten days.

2. Jack Reacher – $13 million

Fans of the Jack Reacher novels have never been sold on Tom Cruise as the star of the film adaptation (the character is described as 6’5″), and perhaps that is part of the reason buzz for the film never really built. Still Cruise’s star power is destined to draw in some crowds, and audiences eager for action will flock to theaters. Paramount spent $60 million on the production, but it’s likely headed to a slim $13 million frame.

3. This is 40 – $12.5 million

Universal’s $35 million Judd Apatow-directed comedy is a spin-off of his hit Knocked Up, which earned $148.8 million back in 2007, but the fact that This arrives in theaters over five years after Knocked Up was released has made connecting the two titles difficult. Star Paul Rudd is hardly a reliable draw — his last three wide releases, How Do You Know, Our Idiot Brother, and Wanderlust,  opened with $7.5 million, $7.0 million, and $6.5 million, respectively.

Still, he’s a likable actor, and thanks to the Judd Apatow connection, This is 40 should fare better than some of his other films. The comedy has been marketed more as an earnest dramedy about getting older (and many would say that that’s what it is), which may keep fans with raunchier taste at home, but with no other comedies in the marketplace, This is 40 should be able to earn about $12.5 million in its first three days. After that, it will need to rely on word-of-mouth to carry it into hit territory.

4. Monsters Inc. 3D – $7 million

Expect more diminishing returns for the 3-D re-release trend, which kicked off in September of last year when Disney’s The Lion King accrued $94 million in a 3-D run. Since then, Disney has re-released two other beloved animations: Beauty and the Beast, which took in $47.6 million in January, and Finding Nemo, which earned $40.9 million in September.

Now the Mouse House is giving Monsters Inc. the same treatment since its sequel, Monsters University, is set to open next year. The family film debuted on Wednesday with about $778,000, which doesn’t bode well for the weekend, though family attendance will certainly increase over the traditional weekend days. Expect about $7 million over the Friday-to-Sunday period, which is only impressive in light of the fact that Disney spent just $3 million to convert the film into 3-D.

5. The Guilt Trip – $6.2 million

The Barbra Striesand/Seth Rogen comedy, which cost Paramount $40 million, got off to a weak start at the box office on Wednesday, grossing just $1.0 million from its 2,431 theaters. The poorly reviewed PG-13 picture may have to settle for just over $6 million in its first weekend. Still, its family themes could help it in the weeks to come.

Check back all weekend for full box office coverage.

RELATED ‘The Hobbit’ breaks December record with $84.8 million debut

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