Six wide releases bring box office into Christmas weekend

Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol” and Sony’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” are expected to lead a crammed holiday frame, with four other wide releases launching between Wednesday and Christmas Day.

While the B.O. is in need of holiday cheer, observers predict soft results on Friday and Saturday, as Christmas Eve historically is a moviegoing dead zone.

That’s why both “Ghost Protocol” and “Dragon Tattoo,” along with Par’s 3D motion-capture toon “The Adventures of Tintin,” debut nationwide Wednesday to fatten up opening totals. In fact, Sony decided to get an even bigger headstart, bowing “Dragon Tattoo” today in most Stateside locations, starting at 7 p.m.

Fox’s Cameron Crowe family pic “We Bought a Zoo” opens Friday, followed by Disney-DreamWorks’ “War Horse” and Summit’s sci-fier “The Darkest Hour” on Christmas Day.

In 2005 — the last time Christmas Eve fell on a Saturday — five films opened wide over the long weekend, though only three bowed at more than 2,000 locations. Holdovers “King Kong” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” jockeyed for top ranking that weekend, with six-day grosses at just north of $40 million. This time around, pundits expect a similarly close race in the $40 millions between “Ghost Protocol” and “Dragon Tattoo,” from Wednesday to Monday.

Specialty cinemas are also crowded with a mix of debuts and expansions.

The Weinstein Co.’s “The Artist” and “My Week With Marilyn” widen significantly, while Angelina Jolie’s “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” from FilmDistrict, and Warner Bros.’ “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” bow in limited release.

“The Artist,” which has cumed $1.4 million domestically as of Dec. 19, adds almost 150 playdates; “Marilyn,” with $6.2 million so far, more than doubles its theater count to approximately 600 Stateside runs.

Overseas, “Ghost Protocol” should have another solid weekend, after debuting at $69.5 million from about 70% of territories. Pic bows this weekend in 10 new markets, including Brazil and Mexico.

Last weekend, Par partnered with Imax and other large-format theaters to bow “Ghost Protocol” exclusively at 425 locations, totaling an impressive $12.8 million domestically, of which $10.5 million came from Imax. The week-early bow should affect the film’s perf this weekend, as it expands to more than 3,400 locations. That’s because some fanboy auds likely saw the film last weekend, though Par hopes the early launch will boost word-of-mouth.

Both “Ghost Protocol” and “Dragon Tattoo” target two of the most avid holiday auds — adults and action fans (Daily Variety, Nov. 22, 2011).

Sony has sold David Fincher’s “Dragon Tattoo” — which should draw auds from fans of the bestselling book trilogy — as hardcore adult counterprogramming, even going so far as to describe the film as “the feel-bad movie of Christmas.”

Entering a crowded family market, “The Adventures of Tintin” (Par is handling North American rights) should land somewhere in the high-$20 millions in six days, according to B.O. watchers. Par launched the film two weeks ago in Quebec and plans to incorporate Canadian grosses into the film’s U.S. opening tally as previews.

But the toon’s domestic perf is mostly gravy, since “Tintin” already has cumed $237 million internationally after eight weeks. Par and Sony have divvied up worldwide distrib rights on “Tintin”; both studios will evenly split the global pot.

As to the weekend’s remaining wide release, Matt Damon starrer “We Bought a Zoo” is expected to hit at around $15 million through Monday, competing in an already-crowded family market. “War Horse” — Steven Spielberg’s second pic this weekend including “Tintin” — is expected to gross $6 million in two days, and “The Darkest Hour,” between $4 million and $5 million.

Christmas Day won’t see much biz until around mid-afternoon, when observers expect turnstiles to really start spinning. Increased theater traffic should continue throughout next week.

Holiday holdovers, meanwhile, led by Warner’s “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” and Fox’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked,” also look to benefit from vacation crowds next week. “Sherlock Holmes” has cumed $44.6 million as of Monday; “Alvin,” nearly $26 million.

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