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'Doctor Strange' to hold off 'Arrival' and 'Almost Christmas' at the box office

Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker star in "Arrival."

The alien visitation drama "Arrival" and the holiday comedy "Almost Christmas" will compete for box office dollars this weekend, but neither is expected to come close to overpowering "Doctor Strange," the latest comic book offering from Marvel Studios.

"Doctor Strange,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch as a former neurosurgeon who can manipulate time and space, should add about $42 million to its tally Friday through Sunday in the U.S. and Canada, according to analysts.

That will be enough to easily secure a first-place finish for the second week in a row, having opened last weekend with an impressive $85 million in domestic ticket sales.

The new picture from the Disney-owned superhero juggernaut has proved a powerful draw overseas as well. In its first 13 days of release, it amassed $240 million internationally, meaning its global total has already exceeded $325 million. The movie cost $165 million to make.

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DreamWorks Animation’s “Trolls” is likely to repeat at No. 2 with $23 million in receipts, continuing its solid run at theaters. The $125-million computer animated family movie, distributed by 20th Century Fox, opened last week with $45 million. 

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With the top two slots spoken for by holdovers, box-office analysts anticipate a tight two-way battle for third place.

"Arrival," released domestically by Paramount Pictures, looks like it has the slight edge over Universal Pictures' "Almost Christmas." The critically acclaimed sci-fi film is expected to take in $17 million to $18 million through Sunday in the U.S. and Canada, according to people who have seen prerelease audience surveys.

That would be a respectable start for the heady drama, starring Amy Adams as a linguist recruited to communicate with extraterrestrials who have unexpectedly landed 12 spaceships around the globe. The studio is projecting a more conservative $12 million to $15 million.

A successful debut for "Arrival" would be a welcome development for Viacom-owned Paramount, which has struggled this year with poor performers such as "Ben-Hur" and "Zoolander 2."

Paramount in 2014 paid $20 million for the domestic rights to "Arrival," based on the short story "Story of Your Life" by author Ted Chiang. It was produced and financed by indie firms FilmNation Entertainment and Lava Bear Films for $47 million. Sony Pictures is handling the international release of "Arrival" in many countries.

Quebec director Denis Villeneuve is a rising filmmaker in Hollywood known for last year’s drug war thriller “Sicario” from Lionsgate and 2013's “Prisoners” from Warner Bros. He’s also directing the upcoming “Blade Runner" sequel from Warner. 

“Almost Christmas,” from Universal Pictures and writer-director David E. Talbert, could be close behind “Arrival” with about $15 million in ticket sales through the weekend. The comedy, about a dysfunctional family that gathers for Christmas for the first time since their mother died, features stars Danny Glover, Gabrielle Union and Omar Epps. 

Getting an early start with audiences for the holiday season, the PG-13 film is tracking particularly well among African American women. It was produced by Will Packer, known for franchises like "Ride Along" and "Think Like a Man," which also feature predominantly black casts.

Also opening Friday is "Shut In," a dark thriller from Luc Besson's distribution company, EuropaCorp. The movie stars Naomi Watts as a widowed psychologist trying to save a mysterious child (Jacob Tremblay) from a deadly New England snowstorm. It's expected to gross about $6 million this weekend.

Follow Ryan Faughnder on Twitter for more entertainment business coverage: @rfaughnder

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