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 Exodus: Gods and Kings‘ 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 19 – 21, 2014.

This weekend, fantasy-adventure The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies opens in more than 3,850 theaters, musical Annie debuts in over 3,000 locations, and comedy sequel Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb plays in 3,700 theaters. Also, the drama Wild expands to more than 850 locations and Mr. Turner gets an unspecified limited release.

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

The easy choice for first place this week is The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, which is the conclusion to Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth prequel trilogy. Despite inflation and 3D surcharges, the previous two installments of this series haven’t quite reached the heights of the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, but they still ranked amongst the most financially-successful films of their release years (An Unexpected Journey: $303 million; Desolation of Smaug: $258.3 million, domestically) and can attract a large audience. Also helping it will be that this is the final film in the iconic franchise, which gives the grand finale more of an event feel than last year’s entry.

The initial critical reception for Battle of the Five Armies is pretty much on par with what’s come before in the Hobbit movies, which may dissuade some from going to see it (note the substantial difference between Journey and Smaug grosses), but the admiration moviegoers have for Jackson’s Middle-earth has more weight than some mixed reviews. As the last major tentpole of 2014 and tracking in the range of $70 million, the third Hobbit movie will have an easy road to the top spot – even if its Wednesday opening lowers the demand for the weekend.

hobbit battle five armiest tv trailer Box Office Prediction: The Hobbit 3 vs. Night at the Museum 3


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

Coming in second should be Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, which should emerge as a solid family option during the holiday season. The two previous films have been commercially viable, raking in $250.8 million and $177.2 million, respectively. It has been a while since star Ben Stiller was in a big live-action hit (Little Fockers was four years ago), but his franchises have maintained their standing as an audience favorite no matter how much time has passed since the last installment. That’s a main reason why Secret of the Tomb is projected to make $26 million during its first three days.

However, don’t expect the third Night at the Museum film to be an all-out smash. Similar to how the Hobbit movies saw a decrease in total grosses between entries, the same can be said for this series. Couple that with the fact that Secret of the Tomb is arriving five years after Battle of the Smithsonianone has to wonder if the interest from casual moviegoers will be there or if it’s too late. Either way, this film will do fine for itself at least in the early stages of release.

#3 – Annie

Coming in third should be Annie, the remake of the classic musical. The film features two A-list stars in Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz, which will help it appeal to mainstream audiences. Neither one of them have spotless box office track records, but each have a fair number of hits under their belt; and with popular source material like Annie, it’s safe to say this has a chance of joining those ranks. Early tracking is at $17 million, but given the amount of competition it has, that’s actually a pretty good mark.

That said, the competition is going to make it tough for Annie to emerge as a proper hit. The initial reviews haven’t been very flattering, which will make its target demographic (families) go for something else. And when an established brand like Night at the Museum is opening on the same day, that will hurt Annie. It should be in decent shape before the Christmas season gets really out of control, but don’t expect it to break the bank.

annie trailer foxx wallis Box Office Prediction: The Hobbit 3 vs. Night at the Museum 3


#4 – Exodus: Gods and Kings

Look for last week’s champ, Exodus: Gods and Kings (read our review) to slip to fourth in its second weekend. Taking advantage of a quiet weekend, the latest film by Ridley Scott managed to emerge victorious with a $24.1 million intake. That’s better than most openings for the director, but it still isn’t great – a sign that the mixed-to-negative word of mouth is a kiss of death for the Biblical epic. With so many high-profile newcomers taking screens and attention from viewers, we don’t expect Exodus to have strong legs.

#5 – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

Rounding out the top five should be The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (read our review). The penultimate chapter in the young-adult franchise made another $12.6 million last week and has inched its way to second on the domestic charts for the year (behind only Guardians of the Galaxy). Since it’s still extremely popular, Mockingjay – Part 1 will continue to post healthy numbers, but it’s clear that its business is slowing down. And with a new Hobbit movie in town, those grosses will only continue to drop.

Jennifer Lawrence as the Mockingjay Box Office Prediction: The Hobbit 3 vs. Night at the Museum 3


Last Week’s Recap

After getting the first two films right, things went a little off track for us. Top Five and Penguins of Madagascar switched places in the actuals (we had predicted them third and fourth, respectively) and once again, Horrible Bosses 2 threw a monkey wrench in our picks. Because of its resurgence during its second weekend, we had thought it would remain in the top five, but the comedy sequel fell down to seventh. In the end, however, it wasn’t an awful week.

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 Interview, Unbroken, Into the Woods, The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies and more!

Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisAgar90

Source: Box Office Mojo (Release Schedule) and Box Office [1], [2], [3] (Opening Weekend Projections)