'New Year's Eve,' 'The Sitter' lay hopes for year-end surge

With year-to-date box office still down 2.4% vs. last year, industryites are looking to this weekend’s pair of openers — Warner Bros.’ ensembler “New Year’s Eve” and 20th Century Fox’s R-rated laffer “The Sitter” — to help jumpstart a surge in filmgoing through the holiday season.

Last weekend’s B.O. slowdown, typical of the post-Thanksgiving frame, saw “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1″ win its third straight weekend. “New Year’s Eve” should break that streak with a bow expected to be in the low- to mid-$20 millions. “The Sitter” is projected to debut in the high single digits to low teens.

An abundance of new specialty titles will be vying for adult attention: Focus Features’ “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and Paramount’s “Young Adult” both bow in limited release. “Tinker” launches today at four locations in New York and L.A.; “Young Adult” goes out in five markets, totaling eight engagements.

B.O. observers remain optimistic that the remaining weeks through New Year’s — with their roster of high-profile product — will be enough to close the Stateside B.O. gap vs. last year.

Though “New Year’s Eve,” from New Line, isn’t expected to equal the opening of 2010′s “Valentine’s Day,” which bowed to $56 million, Warners has positioned “New Year’s Eve” to benefit from a lengthy holiday lead-in. The studio said it expects the pic ultimately to outgross “Valentine’s Day,” which cumed $110 million domestically. Films launched at around Christmas tend to see the highest multiples compared to any other play period, though this year’s crowded Christmas slate could stunt the film’s growth.

Budgeted at a reported $56 million, “New Year’s Eve” also bows day-and-date this weekend in several overseas markets including Australia, Germany and the U.K.

Pic’s star power, which includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Jessica Biel and Sarah Jessica Parker, should drive attendance both domestically and abroad. The inclusion of international stars Til Schweiger and Sofia Vergara should help further overseas.

“New Year’s Eve” is expected to skew mostly female, while Fox’s “The Sitter” is tracking fairly evenly between the genders, with young men holding a slight edge.

Fox said it expects “The Sitter,” which cost in the $20 millions, to benefit from increased holiday moviegoing; the film’s biggest comedy competish will come from “Young Adult” when it expands wide next weekend.

Looking to build word of mouth, Fox plans to sneak “We Bought a Zoo” again this weekend, just two weeks after the film’s first nationwide sneak previews. Tracking has been on the soft side, though the studio remains hopeful, as the film plays well with auds.

Also benefiting from positive buzz, Paramount’s family-friendly “Hugo” expands in its third frame to 2,608 locations, up from 1,840. Martin Scorsese pic cumed $26.8 million as of Wednesday, with improved mid-week tallies.

Fox Searchlight will also look to get holiday traction from “The Descendants” and “Shame” as the two pics get broader releases this weekend. “The Descendants” adds an aggressive 300 playdates for a total 874, while “Shame” more than doubles its limited run, with 21 locations on Friday.

So far, “Descendants” has tallied $18.9 million; “Shame” nearly $500,000.

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