The 2011 box office will officially close its books this weekend, with no new movies debuting in wide release. Christmas holiday holdovers Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Thrones are expected to lead what is typically a weak New Year's weekend frame.
As usual, a handful of specialty movies will use the schedule opening to make their limited debuts: Among them, Focus Features' Pariah, which opened in four New York and California theaters Wednesday, averaging an impressive $5,456 per location; and the Weinstein Company's Iron Lady, a Margaret Thatcher biopic starring Meryl Streep, opening at four locations Friday.
Paramount's M:I:4, directed by Brad Bird and shot at a cost of about $145 million, had grossed an estimated $94.6 million domestically and $180 million internationally through Wednesday.
The Tom Cruise thriller is expected to gross another $40 million over the long four-day holiday weekend.
After getting out of the gate slow in mid-December, meanwhile, Warner's Sherlock Holmes sequel has found momentum at the box office and aims to keep it this weekend.
The Guy Ritchie movie, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, grossed $39.6 million in its first weekend -- significantly less than the $62.3 million that its predecessor, the 2009 Sherlock Holmes, took when it opened.
But the PG-13 movie, which cost $125 million to make, has steadily attracted audiences. On Wednesday, it became the first film of the holiday season to cross the $100 million threshold domestically.
The second Sherlock movie is predicted by box-office watchers outside Warner to gross somewhere around $30 million over the four-day holiday-weekend frame.
Meanwhile, also looking to sustain box-office momentum will be War Horse, Steven Spielberg's World War I drama.
The DreamWorks movie cost about $70 million to make and opened on Christmas Day to a surprisingly strong $7.5 million. It has grossed $22.4 million since Sunday.
DreamWorks expects the film, which has been nominated for two Golden Globes and is widely expected to receive several Oscar nominations, to have a steady run through February.
Spielberg's other movie now in release, Paramount's The Adventures of Tintin, on the other hand, is still searching for a domestic audience.
Despite being nominated for a Golden Globe for best animated feature film, the movie has failed to spark the sort of interest at home as it has internationally.
Paramount is hoping the PG-rated movie, based on the Belgian comic books, to gross $18 million over the four days. That would bring its domestic total to $54 million.
But don't cry for Spielberg.
While American audiences aren't quite embracing Tintin, international audiences love it. The movie, which cost about $135 million to make, has grossed nearly $240 million abroad. And it's just entering its second week of domestic release.
Reserve the sympathy for two directors who usually don't require tears: David Fincher and Cameron Crowe.
Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Sony's R-rated movie based on Stieg Larsson's bestselling novel, is limping into its second week of release. The movie opened the evening of December 20.
As of Tuesday, the movie, which stars Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara, had grossed only about $32.5 million domestically. A movie with a big-name actor, a big-name director and big-name source material would be expected to perform better. But it's a tough movie for Christmastime -- a hard R film about murder, incest and rape.
While there's plenty to be said for counterprogramming, this highly anticipated movie, which cost an estimated $100 million to make, hasn't yet caught on in nearly the numbers initially expected. But it's certainly a better New Year's Eve movie than Christmas film.
Crowe, meanwhile, wrote and directed Fox's PG-rated family film We Bought a Zoo, which opened December 23, may have his second miss in a row.
His 2005 Paramount film Elizabethtown grossed only $52 million worldwide -- $26.8 million domestically -- on a $45 million budget.
We Bought a Zoo, which opened to a soft $9.4 million, is certain to beat that movie's domestic total. As of Wednesday, it had taken in $23.4 million in North America.
The movie stars Matt Damon, and had a budget estimated at $50 million.
Although it grossed a mere $3 million on opening day -- a figure that tumbled to $1.9 million on Christmas Eve -- it has rebounded nicely, taking $4.5 million on Christmas Day, $5.2 million on December 26, $4.3 million December 27 and $4 million December 28.
Because Zoo and Fox's other movie now in release, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked are the only family movies playing, Zoo could have a respectable weekend.
Alvin, a $75 million G-rated movie that opened to $23.2 million December 16, continues to have better numbers than Zoo. It has grossed just short of $70 million domestically, and is drawing strong audiences and hasn't grossed less than $6.5 million a day since Christmas, when it grossed $4.4 million.