SH Shadows
Credit: Daniel Smith
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The last two weekends have been the slowest at the box office since September 2008, so thank goodness Sherlock Holmes and some singing chipmunks are now arriving on the scene.

The weeks leading up to Christmas can be tough going at the multiplex, with kids studying for exams and parents rushing to prepare for the holidays. Nonetheless, the one-two punch of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked — plus an IMAX preview of the newest Mission: Impossible flick — should snap the box office out of its autumn funk. Here are my predictions for the top five:

The first Sherlock Holmes opened to an unexpected $62.3 million two years ago. However, it debuted on Christmas Day, which inflated its initial figures a bit. A Game of Shadows, by comparison, is starting out of the gate nine days before Christmas. That means it’ll be able to take advantage of moviegoers who are off work/school next week. But it’ll also have to settle for non-holiday numbers its first weekend. Reviews for the $125 million sequel have been slightly worse than the original movie, but that won’t have too much of an effect here. For the most part, those who saw the first film will want to check out the second one — they just might not all get around to it this weekend.

Another odd-numbered year, another Alvin and the Chipmunks movie. Like the past two entries, this $80 million threequel has earned horrendous reviews, but there’s something about these musically inclined rodents that remains irresistible to many children. The first Chipmunks movie premiered to a strong $44.3 million on the same December weekend in 2007. However, this year has witnessed several family films struggle to duplicate the big openings of their predecessors (see Kung Fu Panda 2, Happy Feet Two, and Spy Kids: All the Time in the World). I think Chipwrecked may face the same fate, while still debuting to a very respectable $30 million.

3. Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol: $10 million

Now this is a tricky one to predict. In advance of its wide release next Wednesday, Paramount is previewing Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol in 425 theaters this weekend. Of those 425 sites, about 300 represent IMAX screens. (Director Brad Bird shot about 30 minutes of the movie with IMAX cameras.) So, on the one hand, you have moviegoers paying surcharges to see the action film on the largest screen possible (and some coming to check out The Dark Knight Rises prologue at 42 IMAX theaters). But on the other hand, Ghost Protocol is only playing on one screen at each of its 425 locations.

The hope is that that those who see Ghost Protocol early at large-format theaters will be more likely to spread positive word of mouth in advance of the film’s wide release. However, Tom Cruise’s blockbuster star has dimmed over the past decade, so don’t expect jaw-dropping numbers. Instead, Ghost Protocol, which has received very favorable reviews, will be happy to reach the double digits this weekend — and I think it will do just that.

4. New Year’s Eve: $7 million

The star-studded comedy earned some of the worst reviews of the year and opened to a tepid $13 million last weekend (compared to Valentine’s Day‘s $56.3 million). But New Year’s Eve received an inexplicably solid “B+” rating from CinemaScore audiences, so I’m not confident enough to predict a massive decline. Instead, let’s say it’ll fall about 45 percent.

5. Young Adult: $5 million

The R-rated comedy — directed by Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), written by Diablo Cody (Juno), and starring recent Golden Globe nominee Charlize Theron — expands from eight theaters to 986 this weekend. The $12 million movie did pretty good but not spectacular business last week, averaging $39,000 per theater. Expect that per-location average to drop to a still commendable $5,000 this weekend.

Sherlock Holmes 2
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