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Box office preview: 'The Devil Inside' hopes to possess the top spot

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The holidays are over and January has arrived. The first month of the year usually contains sturdy grosses from holiday holdovers and Oscar contenders, but middling-to-low grosses from new releases that have been slotted in what many perceive as a box office dead zone.

The first full weekend of the year has just one new wide release: Paramount’s The Devil Inside, although Focus Features’ Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is receiving a major expansion. Will the Devilish horror film be able to take down box office stalwart Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol? Check out my predictions below:

1. The Devil Inside – $20 million

For the last few years, January has played host to demon-possession movies:

— In 2008, One Missed Call opened with $12.5 million and earned $26.9 million overall.

— In 2009, The Unborn opened with $19.8 million and earned $42.7 million.

— In 2010, Legion opened with $17.5 million and earned $40.1 million.

— And in 2011, The Rite opened with $14.8 million and earned $33 million overall.

The Devil Inside, which Paramount tells me was made for just under $1 million, could perform at the high end of this range — especially because, as of this afternoon, The Devil Inside accounts for 31 percent of Fandango’s daily ticket sales. The horror film has gotten a big advertising push, incorporating some proven-effective Paranormal Activity-eqsue shots of audiences reacting to the film, and religious exorcism films can be substantial box office draws. Last August, The Last Exorcism debuted to $20.6 million and grossed $41 million overall, and The Devil Inside, which is playing in 2,285 theaters, may perform similarly. I’ll give it $20 million for the weekend.

2. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol – $18 million

With $147.2 million in 20 days, December’s breakout blockbuster has already rocketed past the $135.1 million total of Mission: Impossible III, and it’s headed to a finish in the $200 million range. This weekend, Ghost Protocol may dip by about 35-40 percent, leading to an $18 million haul.

3. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows – $11.5 million

While the Robert Downey, Jr. detective movie won’t break the $200 million plateau as its predecessor did, A Game of Shadows made up a lot of lost ground over the holidays (it’s now trailing the original Sherlock Holmes by $27.6 million — ten days ago, it was a whopping $59.7 million behind), and it still has some life left in it. In its fourth weekend, the tentpole may drop by about 45 percent to $11.5 million, which would push it right past the $150 million mark.

4. Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked – $10.5 million

Here’s another film that won’t match its predecessor’s gross, although it did pass the $100 million plateau on Wednesday. Chipwrecked could fall by 40 percent to about $10.5 million over the Friday-to-Sunday period.

5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – $10 million

Sony’s moving along with a sequel no matter what, but it will be interesting to see whether the “feel-bad” adaptation can chug all the way to $100 million. A likely $10 million weekend would put the film at just over $75 million total after three weekends.

Further down the chart, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is getting an expansion — from 57 theaters into 809 — as a result, the film may double its $4.5 million total gross to date.

Follow Grady on Twitter: @EWGradySmith