The Weekend Box Office Champ Will Be … ‘Rise of the Guardians’?

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"Skyfall" and "Lincoln" are expected to battle "Guardians"  for the top box-office spot as "The Hobbit" casts a giant shadow

It is telling that “Rise of the Guardians,” the kids’ holiday film that is off to such a bad start that DreamWorks Animation is looking at a $50 million write-down, has a good shot at winding up No. 1 at the weekend box office. And that’s in its third week.

The box office has a severe case of pre-“Hobbit”-itis. Warner Bros. will roll out the first installment of Peter Jackson’s latest Middle Earth epic on Dec. 14 and rival studios have pretty much run for cover.

The only film opening wide this week is the PG-13 romantic comedy “Playing for Keeps,” FilmDistrict’s tale of a former star athlete (Gerard Butler) coming to grips with real life as a kids soccer coach, and it won't finish among the leaders.

The top spot looks to be a toss-up between "Guardians" and Sony's "Skyfall" and DreamWorks and Disney's "Lincoln," both of which are in their fifth week of release. Three-time champ "Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Part 2" could also figure in, and "Life of Pi" shouldn't be far behind. Analysts say that around $10 million — or roughly $120 million less than what "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is expected to bring in over its first weekend — should be enough to win the weekend.

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The 3D "Guardians" — now in its  third weekend — has taken in $50 million since its release the day before Thanksgiving. Its holiday themes should keep it in theaters through the end of the year, but it hasn't had the sort of start DreamWorks Animation and Paramount were hoping for from the CG-animated movie, which cost $145 millon to make. It's done better overseas, with $57 million so far.

"Playing for Keeps" has a big-name cast, with Jessica Biel, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Judy Greer, Uma Thurman and Dennis Quaid co-starring. Gabriele Muccino ("The Pursuit of Happiness") directs. Debuting on 2,837 screens, it is expected to do around $6 million.

It has been a tough year for Butler who toplined the surf film "Chasing Mavericks" earlier this month, which opened to a very disappointing $2.2 million.

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Open Road Films is expanding its cop drama "End of Watch" from less than 100 theaters to around 1,200 locations this weekend.

On the specialty front, this could be an important week for "Silver Linings Playbook," now going into its fourth weekend. The Weinstein Company's Oscar hopeful that got a boost this week when the New York Film Critics made Bradley Cooper their surprise choice for Best Actor.

It's coming off a strong hold last weekend — just a 24 percent drop from Thanksgiving weekend — and could be building some momentum. It will be on 371 screens again.

Focus Features will debut “Hyde Park on Hudson,” the comedy-drama directed by Roger Michell (“Morning Glory”) and starring Bill Murray and Laura Linney as President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his distant cousin Margaret Suckley, with whom he had an intimate relationship.

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“Hyde Park on Hudson” premiered at the Telluride Film Festival and also played at the Toronto International Film Festival. The reviews have been mixed, and the film has just a 42 percent positive rating on Movie Review Intelligence. It’s rated R and will be on four screens. Focus plans to go wide with the film in January.

“Heleno,” a biography of the tragic life of one of Brazil's greatest soccer players, Heleno de Freitas, will debut on on a single screens in New York and in Los Angeles and two in Miami for Screen Media.

Rodrigo Santoro (“What To Expect When You’re Expecting”) stars in the film, directed by Jose Enrique Fonseca from a screenplay by Fernando Castets.  Rated R, the film has drawn mainly favorable reviews, with a 71 percent positive rating at Movie Review Intelligence.

The Weinstein Co.’s Radius label is rolling out director Stephen Frears’ (“Tamara Drewe”) R-rated comedy “Lay the Favorite” on 40 screens. Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Vince Vaughn star in the tale of a young woman’s journey into the world of sports gambling. Rebecca Hall, Laura Prepon and Corbin Bernsen co-star.