Weekend Box Office: New Year’s Eve Arrives in Theaters to Oust Breaking Dawn

New Year’s Eve comes early this year in the form of Garry Marshall’s star-packed ensemble aptly named New Year’s Eve, which is expected to wrest the number one spot from The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 as it opens this weekend at theaters around the country.

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New Year’s Eve is only expected to open in the low $20 million range, far less than the $72 million Marshall’s Valentine’s Day took home over the four-day Valentine’s Day/President’s Day opening weekend in 2010, but early and mid-December are always sluggish at the box office, with the blockbusters coming out closer to Christmas.

New Line and Warner Bros. (NYSE:TWX) expect the film to have strong multiples as audiences continue to show up through New Year’s Day. With a seemingly random sampling of Hollywood talent, from rising stars to Oscar winners, rappers, Broadway divas, and even an aging 90s pop-star, laws of probability alone should give the film broad appeal, as most Americans can probably say they like or at least know of at least one of the film’s many players.

Just to give readers a sampling of the kind of cameos they should expect, here’s a rundown of some of the biggest names in the film, in no particular order: Michelle Pfeiffer, Hilary Swank, Zac Efron, Robert De Niro, Halle Berry, Alyssa Milano, Jessica Biel, Seth Meyers, Katherine Heigl, SofĂ­a Vergara, Ashton Kutcher, Lea Michele, Sarah Jessica Parker, Abigail Breslin, Ryan Seacrest, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and Joey McIntyre.

No other sappy romantic comedy could compete with a cast like that — and so none will try. This weekend’s other nationwide releases are an R-rated teen comedy and a 3D family film.

David Gordon Green’s R-rated The Sitter stars Jonah Hill as a college student on suspension who is prodded into babysitting the kids next door. Of course, things go terribly wrong when he takes the kids with him on a wild ride across New York City after being promised sex with his girlfriend. The film is tracking strongest among younger males, and 20th Century Fox (NASDAQ:NWSA) is tracking it to open in the $9 million to $11 million range, though some think it could skew slightly higher.

Martin Scorsese’s 3D family-friendly film Hugo isn’t exactly a new release, but expands its theater count from 1,840 to 2,600. The film, set in 1930s Paris, finds an orphan who lives in the walls of a train station becoming wrapped up in a mystery involving his late father and an automaton. Hugo took in $26.8 million domestically through Wednesday.

Hugo is the only wide release this weekend likely to be recognized by the Hollywood Foreign Press as it prepares to announce Golden Globe nominations on December 15. Audiences with more distinguishing tastes will have to look to the slew of independent films being released in only a handful of theaters this weekend for entertainment.

On Saturday, 20th Century Fox will offer a sneak peak of Cameron Crowe’s We Bought a Zoo, starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson in a few hundred theaters across the country. The film won’t open until December 23.

British espionage thriller Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy — based on John Le Carre’s bestselling novel and starring Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, and Tom Hardy — will open in just four theaters in Los Angeles and New York this weekend. The film has already done strong business in the U.K., where it opened in mid-September and has grossed nearly $22 million to date.

Paramount (NYSE:VIA.B) opens Young Adult in eight theaters in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Minneapolis this weekend. Starring Charlize Theron teamed with director Jason Reitman and Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody, the Hollywood Reporter is calling the film a “well acted, but narrowly conceived story about a deluded author of teen novels who plots to win back her high school boyfriend,” who just happens to to be married with kids.

Fox Searchlight’s (NASDAQ:NWSA) George Clooney-starrer The Descendants adds 300 theaters to its run this weekend for a total location count of 874. The film has grossed $19 million to date. Searchlight’s Shame, hoping to overcome the stigma attached to its NC-17 rating, adds 11 theaters to its run for a total count of 21. Directed by Steve McQueen and starring Michael Fassbender, Shame opened last weekend to strong numbers despite its rating.

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Both The Descendants and Shame have been generating Oscar buzz, as has Weinstein Co.’s The Artist, which played in six theaters in Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco last weekend and expands to an additional 10 theaters today.