Tom Cruise, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol | TUXEDO JUNCTION Paula Patton and Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol
Credit: David James

After months of tepid results, there’s simply no denying that the box office is in a terrible rut. After the worst weekend of 2011 two frames ago, prognosticators expected surefire sequels Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked to turn things around. Well, they didn’t. Both films underwhelmed in their debuts.

Now, all eyes have turned to Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and, to a lesser extent, The Adventures of Tintin and We Bought a Zoo to save the box office before 2011 comes to a close. All three films are already out in theaters and posting solid numbers, but due to Christmas Eve (traditionally a weak day at the box office — kids need to be asleep if Santa’s going to visit!) falling on a Saturday this year, this weekend’s three-day results are likely to look unnaturally small, so don’t balk too much at the low-ish predictions that follow. During the period from Christmas Day to New Year’s, pretty much every day is a weekend day — all films in release should recoup some serious cash then.

The fourth Mission installment grossed $17.9 million from a lucrative five-day IMAX run, and it pulled in another $8.9 million on its first day of wide release on Wednesday, giving it a $26 million total. Over the next three days, the blockbuster should just about double its total with $27 million. Thanks to an “A-” CinemaScore grade and tons of comeback buzz, the $145 million Brad Bird production seems poised to be the top box office dog over the next weeks. Sorry Sherlock!

David Fincher’s edgy American adaptation of the first novel in the ubiquitous Swedish mystery series debuted with $5.1 million on Wednesday. Sony’s $90 million R-rated flick should play to a predominantly adult audience, who don’t feel the need to rush out to the theater on opening night, so no matter how Dragon Tattoo opens, its strong reviews and awards buzz should carry it along for the next few weeks. That being said, the film seems destined for $17 million weekend, which seems slightly low given the popularity of the book — though not at all troublesome. Perhaps audiences are just waiting for a little word-of-mouth before they’re courageous enough to watch the graphic picture.

The Christmas Eve effect will counter whatever holiday-boost Sherlock would have received. A 60 percent drop would put the Robert Downey, Jr. movie at $15 million over the Friday-to-Sunday period.

The singing rodents might fall by a more family-friendly 45 percent to $12 million. Not the greatest figure, but then, do strong numbers even exist at the box office anymore?

5. The Adventures of Tintin – $9.5 million

Steven Spielberg’s hugely expensive motion-capture adventure has already amassed $239 million overseas, and that’s a good thing, because American audiences aren’t nearly as aware of the Tintin character or the comics from which he came. A $2.3 million Wednesday forebodes a $9.5 million weekend, just slightly ahead of We Bought a Zoo, which may find $9 million over this weekend.

Christmas Day (Sunday) also brings the release of Spielberg’s other movie, Oscar contender War Horse, as well as sci-fi actioner The Darkest Hour. Suffice it to say that War Horse should fare much better than the alien flick.