Gellar's ''The Grudge'' will be No. 1. Ben Affleck's ''Surviving Christmas'' will be lucky to survive against movies that have already been out for weeks

By Gary Susman
October 22, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

At last, a movie that will earn praise for jumping the shark. That’d be Sarah Michelle Gellar’s The Grudge, which is all but certain to dethrone Shark Tale after the underwater toon’s three-week reign atop the box office chart. The film’s combination of trendy Japanese horror (à la The Ring), a starring role for Buffy the Vampire Slayer herself, and a pre-Halloween release date should prove unbeatable. Opening wide on more than 3,200 screens, The Grudge should scare up at least $22 million.

Shark Tale is still doing swimmingly, having endured sales drops of no more than a third each weekend. If that continues, the fish flick should net another $14 million this time, good for second place. Shall We Dance? also still has legs; the ballroom drama’s earnings should dip no more than a third, to about $8.5 million. On its third Friday night, Friday Night Lights should earn another $7.5 million to finish in fourth place.

Battling for fifth place will be the puppet commandos of Team America: World Police, and the long-shelved holiday comedy Surviving Christmas. In its second week, with much of the potential young male audience likely to choose The Grudge, Team America is likely to drop by 50 percent from last week, for a $6 million finish. Surviving Christmas, meanwhile, is hobbled by negative critical buzz, two leading men who are not known for comedy (Ben Affleck and James Gandolfini), and its curious release timing — guess DreamWorks didn’t want it competing against stronger yuletide movies like Tom Hanks’ Polar Express and Tim Allen’s Christmas with the Kranks due closer to the holiday. Even though it’s opening on 2,350 screens, it may clear only about $7 million this weekend. After that, it’ll be lucky to survive Halloween.