Welcome to the Screen Rant Box Office Prediction. Every week we put together an informal list of box office picks for the upcoming weekend – in collaboration with the Screen Rant Underground podcast Box Office Battle – to offer readers a rough estimate of how new releases (and returning holdovers) will perform in theaters.

For a recap of last week’s box office totals, read our box office wrap-up from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug‘s opening weekend – and scroll to the bottom of this post to see how our previous picks measured up.

Full disclosure: Box office predictions are not an exact science. We acknowledge that our picks may not always be correct. For the sake of offering a jumping off point for discussion, here are our picks for the weekend of December 20 – 22, 2013.

This weekend, comedy sequel Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues opens in 3,400 theaters on Wednesday, crime film American Hustle expands to 2,500 theaters, the true story Saving Mr. Banks expands to 2,200 theaters, and the animated family film Walking With Dinosaurs debuts in 3,200 theaters. Spike Jonze’s Her sees a limited release of six theaters, Dhoom 3 gets a limited release of over 200 theaters, and The Past gets an unspecified limited release. Inside Llewyn Davis is also expanding, but still in a limited number of locations.

#1 – Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Our pick for the top spot this week is the highly anticipated comedy sequel, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. The 2004 original grossed a solid $85.2 million during its theatrical run and has gone on to become a quotable modern comedy classic in the years since. The follow-up is expected to post bigger numbers, with an opening weekend in the $50 million range projected. Fans of Anchorman have waited a long time for the return of Ron Burgundy and that character’s popularity combined with an omnipresent marketing campaign will help this film win the weekend.

#2 – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Look for last week’s champ, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (read our review), to come in second during its second weekend. Peter Jackson’s latest adventure in Middle-earth made $73.6 million during its first three days. While that is a healthy number, it is considerably less than the first Hobbit film ($84.6 million opening weekend), indicating that demand for this franchise may have decreased.

Tentpoles such as this also tend to be top heavy, as they typically see a large drop-off after they open. An Unexpected Journey saw a 56.4 percent decrease during its second weekend and The Desolation of Smaug should see a similar fall – especially with Anchorman 2 opening.

#3 – American Hustle

In what should be a close race between awards contenders for third place, we’re giving David O. Russell’s American Hustle the edge. Russell has seen his profile expand in recent years with critical and commercial hits The Fighter ($93.6 million) and Silver Linings Playbook (over $132 million). His latest film is poised to be another financial hit. Opening in a limited release of six theaters last weekend, the con film grossed an excellent $740,455 for an average of $123,409 per theater. Now that it’s expanding nationwide and more people get a chance to see the film, it should do solid business.

Also helping American Hustle’s prospects is the star power combined with awards buzz. The film has an all-star ensemble cast featuring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, and Jennifer Lawrence, all of whom are recognizable and well-liked actors thanks to their number of hits in the past. Bale did have the flop Out of the Furnace earlier this month, but the circumstances surrounding Hustle’s release are very different. Like Russell’s last two films, it is emerging as a major player in the awards circuit, recently earning seven Golden Globe nominations among several other honors. That will only help generate interest in the film and should fuel it to a lengthy run.

#4 – Saving Mr. Banks

Our choice for the fourth spot is Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks (read our review). After grossing $413,373 in 15 locations last weekend, the Mouse House’s awards hopeful is also expanding nationwide on Friday. While star Emma Thompson is not a reliable box office draw, her co-star Tom Hanks certainly is. Earlier this year, Hanks had the hit Captain Phillips (over $104 million), indicating that audiences still love to see the Oscar-winner on the big screen. Seeing the legendary actor portray Walt Disney is an opportunity movie fans won’t want to pass up.

Saving Mr. Banks could become an appealing option for families looking for a heart-warming film to see during this holiday season and its PG-13 rating (compared with American Hustle’s R) could give it a boost in that regard. However, the awards buzz surrounding Disney’s film is not as strong, which could influence those moviegoers without families to check out Russell’s caper. Also, the fact that American Hustle out-grossed Mr. Banks last week despite playing in less than half as many theaters indicates that Banks may not be as in-demand as its competition.

#5 – Frozen

Rounding out the top five should be Frozen (read our review). The animated film came in second last week by making $22.5 million to bump its domestic total to $164.7 million. Its family demographic will help it continue to post solid numbers, but there’s a chance it loses a portion of its target audience to Fox’s Walking With Dinosaurs this weekend. That combined with a crowded marketplace containing several anticipated releases could cause this film to fall down the charts.

#10 – Philomena

Our number ten tiebreaker this week is Philomena (read our review), which finished in eighth place last week.

Notes

Spike Jonze’s Her is generating a lot of awards buzz recently and it could parlay that into respectable box office returns, but that won’t be for a while. The Golden Globe nominee is opening in only six theaters this week and will expand nationwide on January 10.

The Coen brothers’ awards contender Inside Llewyn Davis is expanding this weekend, but it will still only be playing in hundreds of locations compared to the competition’s thousands. Like Her, the folk-music drama will not expand nationwide until January 10, where the Coens’ popularity could help it post a solid domestic total.

Despite featuring dinosaurs, we do not expect the film Walking With Dinosaurs to finish in the top five. It will almost certainly find an audience with children, but this weekend is stuffed with lucrative holdovers (The Hobbit and Frozen) as well as more marketed and buzzed about new releases (Anchorman 2 and American Hustle). This movie will more than likely slip under the radar.

That’s it for this week’s breakdown.

Now, if you want to participate in the weekly Box Office Battle, it’s time for you to make your picks! In the comments section below, post what you think will be the top five movies this weekend at the box office as well as your own number ten tiebreaker. Then, tune into the Screen Rant Underground podcast for the results and find out who won.

Opening in theaters this week (Wide):

  • Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues – 3,400 theaters (on Wednesday)
  • American Hustle – 2,500 theaters
  • Saving Mr. Banks – 2,200 theaters
  • Walking With Dinosaurs – 3,200 theaters

Opening in theaters this week (Limited):

  • Her – 6 theaters (on Wednesday)
  • Dhoom 3 – 200+ theaters
  • The Past – unspecified
  • Inside Llewyn Davis – unspecified expansion

Box Office Battle Scoring Rules: You get three (3) points for each direct match with the weekend actuals and one (1) point for each movie placed within one spot of the exact position. A perfect score is 15 points. Tie-breakers are not worth any points but, in the event of a tie, the person with a tie-breaker selection closest to the number 10 spot will be awarded the win.

Last Week’s Official Box Office Battle Reader Winner (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaugs opening): Sal reports that there was a three-way tie between Tyler A, The Jones, and The Insufferable Deadpool. They all finished with 13 points, but The Insufferable Deadpool is the official winner thanks to having a closer tiebreaker

For the record, here are our picks from last week – along with the corresponding amount of points we received for each pick (listed in parenthesis).

  • #1 – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (3)
  • #2 – Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas (1)
  • #3 – Frozen (1)
  • #4 – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (3)
  • #5 – Out of the Furnace (1)
  • #10 – The Book Thief
  • Final Score: 9 points

Make sure to check back later this week for the official box office results and tune into the Screen Rant Underground podcast for the weekly winners!

Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisAgar90

Source: Box Office Mojo (Release Schedule)