With four sure-bet $ 100 million-plus grossers leading the pack and the recent record-breaking Thanksgiving weekend, expectectations were high that Christmas weekend would at least hold even with last year.

It didn’t.

And the reason is that the frontloaded season has lost its momentum.

Based on Sunday estimates, the best-case scenario for the weekend has the top 10 films grossing less than $ 78 million, running 8% to 10% behind last year’s $ 85.3 million.

Granted, totals were hampered by the fact that Christmas fell on Friday and rush business didn’t kick in until later in the day.

Daily Variety box office analyst A.D. Murphy says the last time Christmas fell on a Friday, weekend totals were no better than $ 52.4 million. Even adjusting for inflation, business is up from that weekend in 1987.

However, that’s not enough to conceal the shortcomings of the December film crop.

The one exception is Columbia’s “A Few Good Men,” which, as predicted, held on to the No. 1 position with an estimated $ 14 million, edging out Buena Vista’s “Aladdin,” which almost doubled its business with a $ 13 million-$ 13.4 million weekend.

Fox’s “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” placed third with almost $ 10 million. And the gift-horse “The Bodyguard” came bounding back with $ 9 million for Warner Bros.

No film did as well as last year’s Christmas-weekend leader, “Hook,” which hooked $ 15.2 million.

But a quartet of holiday films will better $ 100 million this year, compared to three last year. “Home Alone 2″ is at about $ 125 million now, placing it fourth among the year’s grossers. It should comfortably overtake the other three before it’s done.

“Aladdin” will also place high among 1992′s moneymakers, having already grossed about $ 80 million–with the $ 100 million level just a week or two away. “Men” is close to $ 52 million in 17 days with plenty of playing time ahead of it. And the resilient “Bodyguard,” having logged $ 72 million so far, has a good shot at the nine-digit club.

On the down side, the Christmas Day openers, Fox’s 1,066-theater break on “Hoffa” and Universal’s 1,022-house spread on “Trespass,” didn’t cause box office stampedes, doing respectable estimates of $ 6.4 million and $ 5.1 million , respectively. Neither appears to have the makings of a breakthrough hit, considering they debuted on one of the better weekends of the year and still placed no better than sixth and seventh. And “Trespass” numbers were down from Friday to Saturday.

Warner’s “Forever Young” should be up in the area of 40% from its so-so opening to about $ 7.5 million. With more than $ 18 million in 10 days, this isn’t Mel Gibson’s finest hour, but the pic is likely to end up in the moderate hit category.

Not so “The Distinguished Gentleman.” Even with increased attendance over the weekend, Hollywood Pictures’ Eddie Murphy comedy benefited by only a 13% increase to about $ 4.2 million. Disappointing total to date is about $ 30 million. By Inauguration Day, pic should be out of office.

Steve Martin’s “Leap of Faith” had nowhere to go but up and leapt 25% to around $ 4 million for the weekend, bringing Paramount a wan $ 9 million in its first 10 days.

Fox’s “Toys” had the ignominious distinction of actually losing business — a decline of about 23% — from its opening weekend. With an estimated $ 3.9 million and $ 11.5 million to date, this expensive bauble will make for a dandy write-down.

Buena Vista’s “A Muppet Christmas Carol” added an estimated $ 2.7 million over the weekend and about $ 16 million or so to date, but was also down from last weekend.

Warner’s “Malcolm X” had a slight uplift to about $ 2 million, which will take it over the $ 40 million mark.

Limited year-end releases registered promising totals, particularly Universal’s “Scent of a Woman.” On 20 screens, “Scent” sniffed $ 367,000 in three days and just under $ 500,000 in five.

Goldwyn’s “Peter’s Friends” gathered about $ 323,000 on 45 screens in its first three days.

TriStar’s “Chaplin” enticed $ 86,000 for the weekend on five screens but, ominously, lost business from Friday to Saturday.

Fox’s “Used People” looks to have some moxie with another $ 200,000 for the weekend on 16 screens and $ 310,000 in 12 days.

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