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Franchise follow-ups “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” from Warner Bros., and “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked,” from Fox, weren’t enough to cure the domestic B.O.’s malaise, as overall totals came in roughly 10%-15% behind the same frame last year. Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” which helped fuel Stateside biz with its limited week-early Imax launch, boosted overseas box office with a projected $68.2 million.

“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows ” easily won the weekend with an estimated domestic take of $40 million, while “Alvin” was No. 2, with a modest projected gross of $23.5 million through Sunday.

Neither film managed to match opening totals of their predecessor pics, though the first “Sherlock Holmes” film and Fox’s “Alvin” sequel both launched over Christmas weekend in 2009. The inaugural “Alvin,” however, bowed to $44 million during this same weekend in 2007 — a much livelier marketplace.

Appealing to the same crowd as ” Game of Shadows ,” Par’s exclusive large-format bow of “Ghost Protocol” saw terrific results with an estimated $13 million — the majority of it from Imax, with nearly $11 million — at a total 425 locations. Cume is $13.6 million, including additional revenues from latenight Thursday screenings.

Par vice chairman Rob Moore said the early Imax-dominated launch was meant to encourage word of mouth among fanboys, who tend to be first-responders.

“No matter what’s going on, if you’re someone who likes to see movies in Imax, you also like to see them first,” Moore said.

“Ghost Protocol,” which expands nationwide Dec. 21, posted a $32,000 per-screen average. That’s a stellar start for the film, even with the average premium ticket upcharge from large-format theaters ranging between $3.50 and $5.

B.O. continued to look more lively at the specialty end of the biz.

Focus Features’ “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” was the clear indie winner on an individual theater basis, edging out ” A Game of Shadows ” and “Ghost Protocol” in a few of its total 16 engagements. “Tinker,” which launched solidly last weekend, scored a soph-sesh per-screen average of $28,267 for an estimated weekend gross of $452,278. Cume is slightly more than $850,000.

Five-time Golden Globes nominee “The Descendants” also displayed sturdy legs with an estimated $3.4 million from 878 playdates. Fox Searchlight pic dropped a scant 24% in its fifth week; Stateside cume is $28.7 million.

Underperforming in limited release, Sony Pictures Classics’ “Carnage” tallied an average of just $17,139 from five locations — a less-than-desirable start, especially during a competitive holiday time frame.

Par, meanwhile, had OK success with Jason Reitman’s black comedy “Young Adult,” which expanded wide to 986 locations for an estimated weekend take of $3.7 million. Pic launched limited last weekend and has cumed $4.1 million. Studio plans to give the pic another push on Jan. 13.

‘Game’ on at B.O.?

Warner Bros. launched “Game of Shadows” a week before Christmas to give the pic a headstart going into the holiday frame. And while the sequel fell significantly short of its predecessor (that pic opened with $62 million), the studio is hopeful that “Game” can match — if not surpass — the original by Christmastime.

“We opened this weekend knowing that most kids were still in school on Friday and women are preoccupied with shopping,” said Warner domestic distribution prexy Dan Fellman. “I remain confident that ‘Sherlock’ will wind up this year’s biggest Christmas movie.”

Fellman said he’s encouraged by positive exit polls; the film received an overall A- CinemaScore rating vs. the first pic’s B rating.

Both genders gave the sequel a high appraisal, with men accounting for 59% of the opening. Under-25 auds, however, repped only 31% of the pic’s debut take; auds under 18 (at 14%) bestowed the film with an A.

WB spent a reported $125 million on ” Game of Shadows ,” not including P&A costs. And while the film’s domestic prospects are uncertain (an uncommonly dense six wide releases bow next weekend), overseas box office certainly will help the studio recoup its investment. “Game” launched in six markets to an estimated $14.65 million.

” Game of Shadows ” — the season’s first all-audience tentpole — was likely hurt by Par’s early entry “Ghost Protocol,” since both films targeted similar demographics.

It’s unclear how much of an impact this weekend will have on ” Ghost Protocol ” when the film expands to more than 3,000 locations Wednesday. But Par’s Moore insisted that was never really an issue: “The question always has been, ‘How do we gross the most money in total?'”

For Imax, the jury is still out on whether the unprecedented move will incite other studios to follow suit. One encouraging note, according to Imax prexy Greg Foster, was the film’s 31% Friday-to-Saturday jump, excluding some $500,000 in midnight grosses. (Pic’s total midnight and latenight Thursday tally, the latter of which wasn’t included in the three-day gross, was $1.1 million.)

“We’ve noticed over the last six months that more of the same doesn’t appear to be working, which is why being so closely related to this innovative launch is so exciting for us,” Foster said. “But you’ve got to have the goods.”

Tepid hybrid tally

“Chipwrecked,” the $75 million third installment in Fox’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks” toon-live action franchise, is the newest family film to enter the market, but the film was hurt by competition from theaters packed with family holdovers, including top 10 players “Hugo,” “Arthur Christmas” and “The Muppets.”

Par’s “The Adventures of Tintin” and Disney-DreamWorks’ “War Horse” will further crowd plexes when they bow Dec. 21 and Christmas Day, respectively.

But Fox distrib exec Chris Aronson added that “Alvin” is the only G-rated movie appealing to young kids. With most kids on winter vacation, mid-week totals should improve, though everyone is bracing for a soft weekend, as Christmas Eve (historically a B.O. trough) falls on Saturday.