The final installment of the "Hobbit" franchise is likely to top the box office again over the four-day Christmas weekend.
"The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" is expected to add $50 million to its current $107.9 million domestic haul, according to people who have seen prerelease audience surveys. This would put it ahead of musical "Into the Woods," Angelina Jolie-directed "Unbroken" and crime drama "The Gambler."
Of the three newcomers, Disney's musical, which cost about $50 million to make, is expected to come in second with about $25 million to $30 million through Sunday.
Directed by Rob Marshall, the musical drama stars Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, Meryl Streep, Chris Pine and Johnny Depp. Based on the musical stage production by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, the film is a modern twist on several fairy tales.
Jolie's "Unbroken," distributed by Universal, is based on Laura Hillenbrand's 2010 nonfiction bestseller about Olympic runner turned war hero Louis Zamperini. The film, which cost about $65 million to make, is likely to debut with about $15 million to $20 million.
Paramount Pictures' "The Gambler," which cost about $25 million to make, is expected to gross $10 million to $12 million for the four-day period. The film follows English professor Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), who moonlights as a gambler. John Goodman, Brie Larson and Jessica Lange also star in the film, which is a remake of the 1974 original starring James Caan.
Meanwhile, Sony's "The Interview" will roll out in about 300 theaters across the U.S. The studio also released the film to audiences on YouTube, Google Play, XBox Video and seetheinterview.com on Christmas Eve.
"The Interview," which cost $44 million to make, was expected to debut to $25 million in wide release at the box office. Some analysts predicted that it could have made as much as $100 million during its run in theaters.
It’s tough to say how much revenue the alternative platforms will generate. Many people took to Twitter to talk about "The Interview" after renting it for $5.99. Several independent theaters that signed on to screen the film beginning Christmas Day have already reported sold-out shows.
Some analysts predict that the heightened attention surrounding the film could ultimately result in Sony turning more of a profit than before. Others believe that the video-on-demand release won’t help the studio break even. The film could ultimately pull in around $4 million in its limited release.
Also in limited release, Paramount will debut "Selma" on 19 screens in Los Angeles, New York, Washington and Atlanta.
Weinstein Co. will open Tim Burton's "Big Eyes." The film, which is based on the 1960s story of artist Margaret Keane and husband Walter, stars Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz as the couple.
Warner Bros. will also release Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper," starring Bradley Cooper, on four screens.
After setting a record level of ticket sales in 2013, the industry experienced one of its worst summer seasons in years and struggled to rebound in the fall. According to research company Rentrak Corp, the 2014 movies probably will end up grossing $10.4 billion in the U.S. and Canada, about 5% less than last year's $10.9 billion.
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