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'The Grinch' is poised for a mean box office opening

Benedict Cumberbatch stars in the trailer for the animated take on Dr. Seuss' "The Grinch."

Dr. Seuss’ beloved yuletide thief, the Grinch, may be as cuddly as a cactus, but all signs show that family audiences are ready to embrace the character again at the box office.

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Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures’ new version of the Seuss classic is expected to be a mean one at the multiplex this weekend, according to people who have read pre-release audience surveys. The computer-animated film, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice of the green grouch, is poised to gross $52 million to $65 million in the U.S. and Canada from Friday through Sunday.

That would be enough to easily dislodge 20th Century Fox’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” as the top film in North America, after the Freddie Mercury biopic scored a better-than-expected $51 million from its launch last weekend.

As “The Grinch” dominates the multiplex ahead of the holiday season by appealing to kids, a pair of dark, R-rated offerings will seek grown-up moviegoers: Sony Pictures’ “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” and Paramount Pictures’ zombie war film “Overlord.” But it remains to be seen if audiences are willing to touch either with a 39-and-a-half-foot pole.

Here’s what to watch.

Charming as an eel

A strong opening for “The Grinch” would mark the latest success for Chris Meledandri’s Illumination, the studio behind films such as “Minions,” “Despicable Me” and “The Secret Life of Pets.” Like other Illumination movies, “The Grinch” cost about $75 million to make, meaning the film should have no trouble turning a profit. Some analysts predict the film will over-perform estimates, reaching $70 million in its first weekend, given the lack of recent kids movies and the enduring appeal of the story.

“The market is ripe for a major animated movie with appeal to all ages, something we haven't seen since the middle of summer,” said Shawn Robbins, an analyst with BoxOffice.com. “Holiday timing, the iconic brand, and Cumberbatch's appeal to parents are big advantages as well.”

Seuss’ prickly creature with the heart two sizes too small has been a film and TV fixture since the 1966 television special featuring the voice of Boris Karloff. The live-action version from 2000, starring Jim Carrey and directed by Ron Howard, grossed a massive $260 million domestically, despite lackluster reviews.

Tattooed girl vs. Nazi zombies

Sony Pictures, meanwhile, is trying to revive the “Dragon Tattoo” franchise with “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” seven years after David Fincher’s adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s gritty Swedish crime novel. Directed by Fede Alvarez (“Don’t Breathe”), the film isn’t expected to post huge numbers in its U.S.-Canada opening, most likely collecting $8 million to $10 million in its first three days of release.

Fincher’s “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” opened with a modest $13 million in North America, but caught on with audiences and eventually grossed a solid $232 million globally (including $102 million stateside), on a production budget of $90 million.

The studio hedged its bets this time around. The new picture, based on a novel written and published as a follow-up to Larsson’s Millennium trilogy after the author’s death, cost an estimated $43 million to make and was co-financed by MGM and New Regency.

Meanwhile, Paramount Pictures will launch its $38-million horror-action thriller “Overlord,” the latest film produced by J.J. Abrams. The movie follows a team of American troops in World War II who parachute behind enemy lines to confront terrifying creatures resulting from German experiments. Though it has garnered strong reviews, “Overlord” is expected to open with $10 million to $13 million, according to analysts.

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