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Box office preview: 'The Hobbit,' 'Annie,' and 'Night at the Museum' arrive

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Hobbit Battle Of Five Armies
Mark Pokorny

It’s the battle of the three wide releases at this weekend’s box office: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, and Annie are all opening in at least 3,000 theaters each.

These huge releases will kick some of the top five mainstays, like The Hunger Games and Penguins of Madagascar, down on the list, and will kick off what’s likely to be a successful couple weeks at the box office: Unbroken, The Gambler, and Into the Woodsall films opening in at least 2,000 theaters eachare all opening Christmas week.

While Night at the Museum and Annie open Friday, The Hobbit already started arriving in theaters Wednesday and has made $24.5 million domestically.

As for smaller releases, Wild is expanding into over 1,000 theaters this weekenough to earn it a place closer to the top five, but not quite enough to earn it a place in the top five. Here’s the movies that should have top five-worthy weekends though:

1. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies$63 million

The Hobbit franchise started out strong in 2012, making $84.6 million its opening weekendbut sales were down by the same time the next year when the second Hobbit arrived in theaters and grossed $73.6 million its first weekend. Although $73.6 million definitely isn’t bad, that drop proved that interest in the series was waningand leads us to believe that its gross will drop even more this time around. Sure, Peter Jackson and Lord of the Rings fans are still loyal and will still show up no matter what, but some of the more casual viewers have Hobbit fatigue at this point and might not be too excited to line up for yet another hours-long sequel. Then again, The Battle of the Five Armies is the final film in the trilogy, something that could encourage viewers more on the fence to go out and see how it ends. (Or they could just read the book, an activity that will probably take the same amount of time. Options!) Either way, The Hobbit will have a strong opening weekendbut will also most likely not live up to its predecessors’ numbers.

2. Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb$25 million

It’s been five years since the last Night at the Museum film and eight since the first, so this onethe thirdhas been a long time coming. While the original opened with $30.4 million in 2006, the second fared much better, grossing $54.2 million its first weekend in 2009but don’t expect this one’s numbers to get that high: Because of the gap between films, audiences might not care as much about the series as they once didand even if they do, they could save watching it for the weekend after Christmas, when the craziness of the holidays starts to slow down. But it does have the benefit of being a family film, and one that is meant for both adults and kidsa quality that makes the $127 million film a solid option for those seeking PG-rated fare.

3. Annie$16 million

Annie, starring the Golden Globe-nominated Quvenzhané Wallis as the title character, has experienced some bumps along the way to its release: The hackers who recently attacked Sony leaked the film in early December, weeks before its planned release. This likely won’t damage its box office numbers muchif at all though because Annie, in whatever iteration, doesn’t exactly have the reputation as a film viewers are dying to get their hands on before its official release (no offense, Annie). It also doesn’t have the reputation as a good film, at least right now: The musical currently has an 18 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Families with small kids aren’t as concerned with reviews though, so those audience members will help put the film in the top three.

4. Exodus: Gods and Kings — $10 million

Exodus opened at the No. 1 spot last weekend with $24.1 million, but it won’t be on top again: Given the choice between a Bible epic (Exodus) and a fantasy epic (The Hobbit), audiences will probably lean toward the much lighter latter option. But because Exodus isn’t a film everyone rushed to see as soon as it came outit doesn’t have quite the same fandom as, say, The Hunger Gamesit should find itself having a steady (if small) audience throughout the holidays made up of faith-based audiences and those viewers who weren’t excited enough about the Ridley Scott film to see it opening weekend but are still curious.

5. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1 — $6.4 million

A series America isn’t tired of yet? The Hunger Games, which has grossed $280.4 million domestically since its November premiere. Although its days in the top five are dwindlingthis might be its last week as a member of the club thanks to all the new releases coming out this week and nextit should continue its trend of dropping around 50 to 60 percent.