After two wretched weekends at the box office, sequels to Sherlock Holmes, Alvin and the Chipmunks Mission: Impossible are riding in to rescue the domestic movie business.
The three films will kick off a tentpole onslaught that will see eight movies released wide over nine days. The studios hope that they'll also kickstart the box office.
Warner Bros.' Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows opens Friday at 3,703 locations in the U.S. and Canada and is expected to take in as much as $60 million in its opening weekend.
Fox's G-rated Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, meanwhile, is starting out in 3,723 theaters and is looking at up to $30 million over its first three days -- though the studio's more conservative estimate is in the mid-to-high $20 million range.
And Paramount is opening Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol in 425 locations, 300 of them IMAX. The fourth installment in the Tom Cruise action franchise goes wide December 21.
Among adult dramas, Paramount's R-rated comedy Young Adult is expanding from eight theaters to 986. And Roman Polanski's Carnage, starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz will play at five locations. Sony Classics is releasing the R-rated drama.
With the domestic box office coming off its worst weekend since September 2008, the movie business could use a hero -- or at least, a holiday season like the one it had in 2009.
Two years ago, the original Sherlock Holmes opened to $62.3 million over Christmas weekend, while Alvin and the Chipmunks: the Squeakquel premiered to $48.9 million. (Neither film opened in first place, however -- that position belonged to Avatar, then in its second week of release.)
Sherlock Holmes reunites Robert Downey Jr., as the private detective Holmes, with Jude Law playing his sidekick, Dr. Watson. In A Game of Shadows, Holmes and Watson go after their nemesis, the evil Professor Moriarty.
Guy Ritchie, who directed the 2009 film, which grossed nearly $525 million worldwide, returned to the director's chair for the sequel.
Game of Shadows cost about $125 million to produce.
The movie has a good 69 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
According to research firm NRG, 93 percent of males from both age quadrants report awareness of the Sherlock Holmes sequel.
About 65 percent of males older than 25 -- and 64 percent of those 25 and younger -- say they have definite interest in seeing the film, while 29 percent of both groups call the movie their first choice to see next time they're in the theater.
Meanwhile, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked cost an estimated $80 million to make and arrives with weak Rotten Tomatoes score of 15 percent.
Jason Lee returns in the lead live-action role, playing paternal figure to the high-pitched, CG-rendered singing and talking chipmunks, who get stuck on an island in this one.
Tracking is solid among women 25 and older, with 92 percent telling NRG that their kids have made them very aware the movie is coming out, and 38 percent from that group saying they have definite interest in seeing the film. Also from that group, 7 percent call it their first choice to see next time they're in a theater.
With a crush of movies opening Christmas weekend, the limited release of Mission: Impossible is designed to generate strong word-of-mouth for director Brad Bird's $140 million action film, exhibitor IMAX said.
Our IMAX DNA is all over 'MI4,' Greg Foster, chairman, filmed entertainment at IMAX, told TheWrap. The picture was shot with our cameras, several of the big set pieces feature IMAX photography and our focus is on putting the movie's best foot forward.
The fourth Mission Impossible movie is getting raves from critics, with Rotten Tomatoes ranking the film at 92 percent fresh.
Finally, Paramount is expanding Young Adult, the Charlize Theron comedy directed by Jason Reitman, to 1,000 locations.
Young Adult is about a successful writer who, soon after her divorce, returns to the small town in Minnesota where she grew up and tries to rekindle a romance with her now-married ex-boyfriend.
It has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 80 percent and has grossed $408,814 since it opened last weekend.