January 19, 2012 at 12:00 PM EST

Hollywood is hoping that 2012’s winning box office streak continues this weekend as three new films — Underworld Awakening, Red Tails, and Haywire — will enter theaters, and two others — Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and The Artist — receive wide expansions. Here’s how I think the Top 5 will shake out.

1. Underworld Awakening – $24 million

After skipping out on Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, Kate Beckinsale (who got a nice bit of extra publicity thanks to Seth Rogen’s… excitement at the Golden Globes) rejoins the enduring vampires vs. werewolves franchise for the series’ fourth installment, which, thanks in part to the presence of 3D, should outdo the $20.8 million that Lycans opened with in 2009. Sony/Screen Gems spent about $70 million on the picture (a marked increase from the previous two installments, which cost $22 million and $35 million, respectively), but just because the budget doubled doesn’t mean that the box office receipts will, too. The three Underworld installments’ average opening weekend stands at $23.1 million, and their average domestic total at $53.4 million. Thanks to 3D ticket prices, those numbers may creep up a little bit, but at this point in the franchise, uninitiated viewers aren’t going to suddenly check out what Underworld is all about. In 3,078 theaters, Awakening may scare up $24 million.

2. Red Tails – $19 million

This historical action film, a passion project from producer George Lucas about WWII’s African-American Tuskegee airmen, didn’t seem likely to soar a month ago, but the $58 million picture has picked up some tremendous momentum in the last few weeks, and it looks ready for a successful takeoff. Not only is Red Tails, which stars Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard, currently the hottest ticket on Fandango (as of Jan. 19 at 11 a.m.), accounting for 27 percent of all ticket sales, but on Tuesday, it scored a huge endorsement from Madea-creator Tyler Perry. He told his newsletter readers, “I think we should pull together and get behind this movie. I really do! Not just African Americans, but all of us.” Perry’s influence should not be underestimated. Tracking for Red Tails isn’t very strong, but time and time again, movies that play well with African-American audiences have had deceptively low tracking scores — that may be why Fox is predicting only an $8-10 million weekend. I, however, think Red Tails may pull in an impressive $19 million from 2,512 locations, which would put the film well-ahead 2006’s WWI pilot movie, Flyboys, which sputtered with only $13.1 million total.

3. Contraband – $12 million

Mark Wahlberg’s thriller broke out last weekend, but due to heavy competition (while this week’s three new releases are varied,  they are still essentially all action flicks), it may fall by about 50 percent this time around. A $12.5 million weekend would give Contraband a sturdy $46 million after ten days

4. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – $11.5 million

After five weeks in limited release, the Tom Hanks/Sandra Bullock adaptation will expand from 6 theaters into 2,630 theaters on Friday, and while it will certainly get a huge box office boost as a result, I’m doubtful that it will truly break out. Difficult subject matter will keep many away. The film deals with the aftermath of 9/11, a touchy plot that many moviegoers will simply not want to explore in theaters. Extremely Loud has also received generally middling reviews, which might not matter for a young-skewing title like Underworld, but absolutely matters for a serious film that many had considered a major awards contender. On the star front, Sandra Bullock is playing against her spunky persona, which won’t likely garner more than her diehard fans, while Tom Hanks, after last summer’s Larry Crowne ($35.6 million total), needs a hit to prove that his box office star isn’t fading. All that being said, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is based on a popular novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, which means there is a built-in audience here, and its gotten a strong advertising push, which features a few choice rave reviews. I’m predicting an $11.5 million weekend.

5. Beauty and the Beast – $11 million

Belle may see a family-friendly 40 percent drop and dip to about $11 million, which should be enough to keep a certain butt-kicking beast — Haywire‘s Gina Carano — at bay.

6. Haywire – $8 million

Steven Soderbergh’s female-led action flick cost just $23 million to make, which is good, because it doesn’t seem headed for huge numbers this weekend. With so much action in the marketplace, and another female-drive action film from a proven franchise opening on the same day, Haywire could get shut out and have to settle for $8 million out of 2,439 theaters.

Also of note: After eight weekends in limited release, Golden Globes Best Picture (Musical or Comedy) winner The Artist will also expand into 662 theaters this weekend, and the film may draw about $3 million as a result.

For more box office perspective, follow me on Twitter @EWGradySmith

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