Welcome to the Screen Rant Box Office Prediction. Every week we put together an informal list of box office picks for the upcoming weekend – 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 Battle of the Five Armies’ 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 26 – 28, 2014.

This weekend, musical Into the Woods opens in 2,200 theaters, war drama Unbroken debuts in over 3,000 locations, and crime flick The Gambler plays in an unspecified nationwide release. Also, Big Eyes gets a moderate debut of an unspecified number of theaters, The Imitation Game expands, American Sniper debuts on four screens, and Selma will play in 19 locations.

#1 – Into the Woods

In a typically busy Christmas weekend at the multiplex, we are giving the edge to the new musical, Into the Woods. Disney’s awards hopeful has a lot going for it. Not only did it score big at the Golden Globes with three nominations (including Best Picture), it also has a star-studded cast that will draw in casual moviegoers and musical aficionados alike. Among the A-listers involved are Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Emily Blunt, and Chris Pine – all of whom have headlined major successes during their careers.

The Broadway play source material is a bit dark, but the Disney branding and PG rating will make it a favorable choice for families (think Maleficent earlier this year), which is a demographic that has largely gone underserved this year. Tracking indicates a $40 million opening weekend, and given the popularity of the talent involved, the highly-visible marketing campaign, and the intriguing premise that blends multiple classic fairy tales together, Into the Woods should come out on top.

into woods movie meryl streep Box Office Prediction: The Hobbit 3 vs. Into the Woods

#2 – The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Look for last week’s champ, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (read our review), to fall to second during its second weekend. Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth swan song grossed $54.7 million last weekend, but since it opened on a Wednesday, its opening frame was better than that (5-day total: $89.1 million). Still, that is the lowest opening weekend gross for the franchise since The Fellowship of the Ring started it all in December 2001, which is quite alarming when you take ticket inflation and 3D surcharges into consideration. It’s obvious that the mixed response has had an impact on audiences, and the demand for the third Hobbit film isn’t all that high. The popularity of the series will sustain it, but it won’t repeat at number one.

#3 – Unbroken

Coming in third should be Unbroken, Angelina Jolie’s biopic of World War II hero Louis Zamperini. The film has been touted as an Oscar-contender essentially from day one, but early word is surprisingly mixed. The movie was shut out at the Golden Globes (but did get recognition from other awards outlets), and early reviews have placed it in the “good, not great” category. That initial response could have an effect on how many people turn out, since there are several other options opening this week, and many of those are scoring better with critics and audiences.

Still, Unbroken should do fine for itself – even if it doesn’t win the weekend. Just the fact that Jolie is trying her hand at directing a WWII epic is enough to get people’s attention, and the true story on which it is based is uplifting and inspiring; meaning that it should be a great crowd-pleaser. War movies typically do well at the box office (the gritty Fury made $84.7 million earlier this year), and Unbroken seems likely to join those ranks with its projected $19 million opening weekend.

December 2014 Preview Unbroken Box Office Prediction: The Hobbit 3 vs. Into the Woods

#4 – The Gambler

Our pick for fourth is The Gambler, a remake of the 1974 James Caan crime drama. This new version stars Mark Wahlberg and is directed by Rupert Wyatt, who made a name for himself in 2011 with Rise of the Planet of the Apes ($176.7 million). The director seems to be channeling his inner Martin Scorsese with this film, but it doesn’t appear as if it’ll reach the heights of Marty’s offerings in this popular genre, which is why we have it down here.

Oddly, we don’t know how many theaters are showing the movie, which makes it difficult to say how many people will get a chance to see it. Early tracking isn’t available, but we can say with some confidence that it will attract a number of moviegoers, since Wahlberg is a big star (Lone Survivor made over $125 million) and the trailers have teased a slick bit of entertainment that can operate as counter programming to the usual Christmas fare (think Wolf of Wall Street last year). However, early reviews have only been so-so and the film has no awards prospects to give it a boost, so it may not be as lucrative as the other new arrivals.

#5 – Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

Rounding out the top five should be Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (read our review), which made $17.1 million during its first three days last week. That was good enough for second, but it was by far the lowest debut for the series (Battle of the Smithsonian made $54.1 million during its opening weekend in 2009), so it’s pretty clear that this Ben Stiller vehicle won’t have strong legs. With the sheer amount of competition, it’s unlikely that the third installment of this franchise can keep its audience, especially with families going to see Into the Woods. With so many other high-profile options, Secret of the Tomb will most likely be swept under the rug.

Night at the Museum 3 Trixy the Triceratops Box Office Prediction: The Hobbit 3 vs. Into the Woods

Notes

With only five spots and so many films playing, there will be some new releases that can’t make it to the top of the charts this week. We would like to remind readers that both American Sniper and Selma are playing in limited release right now and will expand nationwide next month. Both films have a lot going for them in terms of box office prospects (A-list talent and Oscar buzz, respectively) and should do solid business once they increase their number of theaters. The same can be said for Tim Burton’s Golden Globe-nominated Big Eyes, which also won’t be playing in enough locations to crack the top five.

Last Week’s Recap

We correctly predicted the entire top five in the order they finished.

That’s it for this week’s breakdown. Make sure to check back later this week for the official box office results!

Agree or disagree with our predictions? Which five films do you think will top the box office this weekend? Share your own picks in the comments section below!

Next Week: The Woman in Black 2, Into the Woods, Unbroken, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, and more!

Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisAgar90

Source: Box Office Mojo (Release Schedule) and Box Office [1], [2] (Opening Weekend Projections)

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