'Dark Knight Rises,' 'Avengers,' 'Hobbit' will fuel B.O.

Summer tentpoles “The Avengers,” “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” and bankable fall entries such as the final “Twilight” and first “Hobbit” pics have the biz looking forward to more B.O. cheer in 2012.

On Thursday, Variety analyzes 2011′s box office ups and downs.

Here’s a peek at what’s in store for next year:

High on everyone’s list of potential early blockbusters is Lionsgate’s late-March entry “The Hunger Games,” the first installment in Suzanne Collins’ bestselling young adult book trilogy. “Games” is followed just a week later by “Wrath of the Titans” — Warner Bros.’ 3D follow-up to 2010′s “Clash of the Titans,” which grossed north of $163 million domestically.

Those pics, as well as fellow March entries including “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax,” from Universal and Illumination Entertainment, and Paramount’s “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,” could keep bizzers happy through the end of the first quarter. Successes such as 2010′s “Alice in Wonderland” and “How to Train Your Dragon” were a hard act to follow in 2011, leading to big first-quarter dropoffs.

There’s plenty to offer even before March, however.

In early January, Universal will bow Mark Wahlberg-Kate Beckinsale thriller “Contraband,” and during that same weekend, Disney looks to replicate this year’s success of “The Lion King” 3D re-release with a multidimensional treatment of “Beauty and the Beast.”

Sony-Screen Gems’ fourth “Underworld” installment, “Awakening,” launches in 3D a week later on Jan. 20. “Awakening” marks the franchise’s third January opener; the first pic debuted in September 2003.

Other noteworthy first-quarter entries include Fox’s action comedy “This Means War” and Sony’s 3D “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance,” both launching the weekend of Feb. 17; Universal’s Jennifer Aniston-Paul Rudd romantic comedy “Wanderlust” (Feb. 24); Disney’s big-budget tentpole “John Carter” (March 9); the Todd Phillips-produced WB comedy “Project X” (March 2) featuring a largely unknown cast; and Sony’s “21 Jump Street,” which bows March 16.

Pics from outside the majors that could boost first-quarter B.O. include Steven Soderbergh’s “Haywire,” which Relativity Media is releasing Jan. 20; Open Road’s sophomore title “The Grey” and Summit’s “Man on a Ledge,” both bowing a week later on Jan. 27; and Lionsgate’s Tyler Perry offering “Good Deeds” (Feb. 24).

Usual summer suspects

Even without “Harry Potter” or “Transformers,” summer 2012 is bursting at the seams with tentpoles.

A sked packed with potential new franchises and plenty of sequels kicks off the weekend of May 4 with Disney-Marvel Entertainment’s “The Avengers.” Warner Bros.’ “Dark Shadows” — Tim Burton’s adaptation of the cult 1960s TV serial — bows a week later, followed by Universal’s “Battleship” (May 18) and “Men in Black 3,” which Sony will launch over Memorial Day weekend.

Missing from the May lineup, however, is the usual kidpic from DreamWorks Animation, which had “Kung Fu Panda 2″ this year and “Shrek Forever After” in 2010. June kicks off with director Adam Shankman’s Tom Cruise tuner “Rock of Ages,” looking to repeat the summer success of Shankman’s July 2007 musical entry “Hairspray,” which cumed almost $120 million domestically. Standing in its way could be Kristen Stewart, who toplines Universal’s dark fairy-tale adaptation “Snow White and the Huntsman,” opening June 1.

The week of June 8, Ridley Scott’s sci-fi epic “Prometheus” will vie for adult auds, while kids can pick DWA’s “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.” That film will have a corner on the family market until Disney opens its first female-powered pic from Pixar, “Brave,” on June 22, when Fox’s adult-skewing “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” also bows.

After an extended absence, Bryan Singer returns to theaters June 15 with another dark fairytale “Jack the Giant Killer,” which will try to slay Adam Sandler’s comedy, “I Hate You Dad,” at the box office.

The final week of June, Channing Tatum squares off against himself: He toplines Steven Soderbergh’s male stripper pic “Magic Mike” and will hand off the “G.I. Joe” franchise to Dwayne Johnson, who will be joined in the sequel, subtitled “Retaliation,” by Bruce Willis, playing the original Joe.

July remains light so far in terms of the number of releases, but a pair of heavyweight superhero tentpoles — “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “The Dark Knight Rises” — should make up for fewer openers.

Sandwiched between those B.O. brawlers will be Fox’s fourth installment in the mega-hit “Ice Age” franchise, “Continental Drift,” and Seth MacFarlane’s “Ted,” which stars Mark Wahlberg and a foul-mouthed CG-animated teddy bear.

August, meanwhile, should start with a bang, as Universal begins a new chapter in its Jason Bourne franchise with “The Bourne Legacy.” That pic should rival Sony’s reboot of “Total Recall,” starring Colin Farrell. Both pics play opposite “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days” — the third in Fox’s kidpic series.

The rest of August features a diverse lineup ranging from Sylvester Stallone’s action ensembler “The Expendables 2″ to Focus Features’ animated “Paranorman.”

Fall holiday highlights

Once considered a B.O. dumping ground, the month of September is now worthwhile real estate, especially for gender-specific and genre pics, and 2012′s slate is set to prove that theory.

Sony-Screen Gems’ “Resident Evil 5″ opens two weeks after Labor Day, fighting for screens with Ben Affleck’s “Argo,” set against the Iran hostage crisis. During the last week of September, Universal’s Oliver Stone-helmed drug crime thriller “Savages” bows alongside Sony sci-fier “Looper.”

October features the requisite genre pics, including “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D” and Tim Burton’s animated “Frankenweenie,” both of which will battle Fox’s Liam Neeson starrer “Taken 2″ on Oct. 5. Warner Bros.’ period crime drama “Gangster Squad” bows Oct. 19.

On Nov. 2, FilmDistrict will finally unveil MGM’s long-delayed “Red Dawn” remake, starring “Thor” thesp Chris Hemsworth. Pic launches alongside Disney’s animated “Wreck-It Ralph” and Paramount’s Seth Rogen-Barbra Streisand comedy “My Mother’s Curse.”

B.O. observers will then turn their focus to Sony and Sam Mendes’ James Bond pic “Skyfall” and Summit’s final “Twilight” installment, which bows the week before Thanksgiving — in a release strategy similar to that of “Breaking Dawn — Part 1.” (That pic bowed mid-week, while “Breaking Dawn — Part 2″ launches on a Friday, looking to rival Warner’s opening three-day record set by the “Harry Potter” finale.)

Alfonso Cuaron’s ambitious sci-fi two-hander “Gravity,” starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, could be a box office dark horse.

The year’s holiday moviegoing will continue with “The King’s Speech” helmer Tom Hooper’s take on “Les Miserables,” which bows Dec. 7. One of the most-anticipated films of 2012 is Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” which finds its way out of the shire on Dec. 14.

A typical December logjam is already shaping up a week later: Five wide releases include Judd Apatow’s “This Is 40,” from Universal; Par’s zombie pic “World War Z” and Fox’s 3D adaptation of “Life of Pi.” Relativity’s actioner “Hunter Killer” and Sony’s Kathryn Bigelow-Mark Boal untitled project about the hunt for Osama bin Laden are also slated to bow over the Christmas frame.

This year, Steven Spielberg competed against himself on Christmas Day — in 2012, Leonardo DiCaprio does double duty in both Quentin Tarantino’s spaghetti Western “Django Unchained” and Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby.”

Up in the air

Pics set for 2012 but not yet dated include Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” from Disney-DreamWorks, and Focus’ “Anna Karenina.”

Elsewhere, the Weinstein Company has Paul Thomas Anderson’s sure-to-be controversial religious drama “The Master,” which stars Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix. TWC also has Tobey Maguire-starrer “The Details,” which bowed to mixed reviews at Sundance in January.

Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski si
blings return to theaters with “Cloud Atlas,” an ambitious, big-budget epic starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry.

Looking to repeat the success of “Midnight in Paris,” Sony Classics just acquired Woody Allen’s next film “Nero Fiddled,” which does not have a release date yet but will likely debut in 2012. Pic stars Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Penelope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg and Ellen Page.

While Walter Salles’ adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is still in search of a distributor, expect it to make its festival debut at some point in 2012. Also seeking a distributor is Mel Gibson-starrer “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” which could be ready to roll out next year.

Robert Redford’s political thriller “The Company You Keep” and Terrence Malick’s next untitled film starring Ben Affleck, Javier Bardem, Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams are also expected to bow in 2012.

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