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Box Office: Holdover ‘Hobbit’ to lead busy frame

Almost 20 films to bow through next Friday

While this Christmas is the most crowded ever, moviegoers have already unwrapped the season’s biggest B.O. gift — and Warner Bros.’ “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” will again be hoisting an otherwise light pre-holiday frame.

From Wednesday through next Friday, almost 20 pics bow in wide or limited release, including today’s $65 million-budgeted Tom Cruise starrer “Jack Reacher,” from Paramount, and Universal’s Judd Apatow R-rated laffer “This Is 40,” which cost $35 million to produce.

The pair should lead the weekend’s new entries with B.O. in the low-to-mid teens, while Sony’s “Zero Dark Thirty” debuted Wednesday at five coastal locations.

Anything north of $40,000 per screen for the Mark Boal-Kathryn Bigelow collab would be solid. However, it’s difficult to predict the impact, if any, from the scolding Sony took Wednesday from three U.S. senators who claim the pic misrepresents the torture of a detainee as having led to the capture of Osama bin Laden.

The weekend’s modest all-around tracking isn’t too troubling, since pics this time of year tend to gross, on average, five to six times their Stateside openings. Consider Fox’s “We Bought a Zoo,” which opened last year on Dec. 23 with $9.4 million. Pic wound up with a domestic cume of more than $75 million — an outstanding eight-times multiple.

“The Hobbit,” meanwhile, crossed $100 million domestic after taking in a combined $15.6 million on Monday and Tuesday. In five days the New Line-MGM co-production reached a global total of $270 million, of which $170 million comes from international plexes.

Judging by its first couple of weekdays, “Hobbit” should drop around 55% domestically, which would yield roughly $38 million this weekend. Warner’s “I Am Legend” — the previous December opening recordholder — played during this exact same period in 2007 and fell 57% in its second frame. That pic earned $14 million collectively during its first two weekdays.

Disney’s “Monsters, Inc.” 3D reissue is expected to gross $10 million-$12 million in three days, with a mid-teens upside in five.

Along with “Reacher,” Paramount has three other horses this weekend: The studio launched “The Guilt Trip” on Wednesday at 2,300 locations, followed by Friday’s 3D spectacle “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away,” at 800, and music indie “Not Fade Away,” from Paramount Vantage, at three.

A handful of other pics open limited this week, including Wednesday’s Austrian Oscar foreign-lingo contender “Amour,” at three locations, and Summit’s tsunami disaster pic “The Impossible,” which launches Friday at 15 theaters.

Looking ahead, Universal’s tuner adaptation “Les Miserables” looks to outpace fellow Christmas Day openers, the Weinstein Co.’s “Django Unchained” and Fox’s “Parental Guidance.” The bigscreen musical is already outpacing previous Christmas record holder “Sherlock Holmes” in advanced ticket sales, according to Fandango.

The ticketing site also reported “Les Mis” had the highest share of Wednesday ticket sales, at 40%, followed by “The Hobbit” (32%) and “Zero Dark Thirty” (6%).

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