With no new films opening wide on what is typically the slowest moviegoing weekend of the year, the one after Thanksgiving, Disney's "The Muppets" is expected to finish No. 1 at the domestic box office.
Entering its second weekend, "The Muppets" has already grossed $44.4 million. The PG reboot is predicted to take in around $20 million this weekend.
Expected to finish a close second in its third weekend, Summit Entertainment's "Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1" passed the $500 million mark at the global box office just this past week. It should challenge "The Muppets" for the No. 1 spot this time around.
Meanwhile, the GK Films/Paramount family movie "Hugo" is expanding from 1,277 locations to around 1,800 theaters, but is only expected to bring in around $8 million. The PG-rated 3D film, directed by Martin Scorsese and produced at a cost of more than $150 million, grossed just $15.3 million over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Also marketing a PG movie that had a slow start over the holiday, Sony and Aardman are hoping for an uptick for "Arthur Christmas" after it opened up to just $16.3 million.
With no movies entering wide release, much of the attention at this weekend's box office will be on the pre-Oscar arthouse circuit.
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And the indie film with the biggest buzz is Fox Searchlight's "Shame," Steve McQueen's NC-17-rated movie about sexual addiction. Starring Michael Fassbender, "Shame" opens Friday in 10 theaters in the U.S. and one in Canada.
Fassbender's performance — and nudity — have generated a great deal of press for the film. And reviews have been strong, with "Shame" registering an 82 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes as of late-afternoon Thursday.
"With all the publicity that we've received, I think it's going to be terrific," said Sheila DeLoach, executive VP of distribution at Fox Searchlight.
A distribution executive at a rival studio projected that the movie will gross between $125,000 and $150,000, which would be a strong limited debut.
Fox Searchlight has another significant indie in the weekend mix — the holdover "The Descendants." That R-rated movie, directed by Alexander Payne and starring George Clooney, is expanding from 433 to 574 theaters in its third week of release.
The film has already grossed more than $12.4 million after two weekends of limited play. And it grossed more than $1.5 million from Monday through Wednesday this week.
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Other specialty movies opening this weekend include Roadside Attractions' "Answers to Nothing," starring Dane Cook and Barbara Hershey, and IFC's "Sleeping Beauty." The foreign films "I Am Singh" from Reliance, "Pastorela" from Lionsgate and "Outrage" from Magnolia, also open Friday.
Howard Cohen, co-president of Roadside Attractions, told TheWrap that the company is hoping to establish "Answers to Nothing" on a weekend when there aren't a lot of other movies for the adult audience that are opening.
"We're optimistic," he said.
Among indie holdovers, leading Oscar contender "The Artist" will add two more engagements in its second weekend of play, bringing its theater count to six. Related Articles: Review: Even With All That Sex, 'Shame' Will Leave You Unsatisfied Scorsese's 'Hugo' Faces Tough Road to Profitability After Soft Opening