Can Record-Breaking ‘Les Miz,’ ‘Django’ Kick ‘The Hobbit’ at Box Office?

"Les Miserables" and "Django Unchained," trying to build on record-breaking Christmas debuts, will challenge two-time box-office champ "The Hobbit"

Even though projections for  “Les Miserables” and “Django Unchained" have been raised after their knockout Christmas debuts, “The Hobbit” An Unexpected Journey” could be back on top of the box office when the dust clears this weekend,

It should be close. Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth epic will take in north of $30 million for Warner Bros., industry analysts predict, with Universal’s musical “Les Miz” at $29 million and the Weinstein Company’s “Django” doing around $24 million.

Pre-release projections had “Les Miz” and “Django” at around $20 million for their first weekend, but both films exceeded that in their first two days. “Les Miz” is at $30 million after opening to $18 million on Christmas and Quentin Tarantino’s slave saga is at $25 million after debuting with $15 million.

Also read: 'Les Miz' ($18M), 'Django' ($15M) Give Box Office a Christmas Goose

“I won’t be surprised if the order changes,” vice-president and chief analysts Phil Contrino told TheWrap Thursday, “but that would be more of the same for 2012, when there’s been a lot of over-achieving.”

Count the overall box office among the over-achievers. While it’s had its ups and downs, the ups have been really strong and the downs manageable, Contrino said. The 2012 haul is on pace to finish at $10.8 billion. That would put it 6% ahead of 2011 in dollars and 5.9% ahead in attendance.  It would also establish a new all-time record for the biggest yearly domestic box office on record.  The previous high-mark was the $10.6 billion in 2009.

While “Les Miz,” “Django” and Bilbo Baggins are battling for the biggest bucks, several awards contenders will be vying less for dough than critical awards positioning and buzz at the specialty box office.

Also read: Focus Features Moves Gus Van Sant's 'Promised Land' Into Awards Season

Gus Van Sant’s “Promised Land,” which reunites the director with “Good Will Hunting” star Matt Damon, joins the fray Friday, just in time to qualify for this year’s Academy Awards.

Focus Features is rolling it out in 25 theaters in 14 markets, prior to expanding to 1,500 locations on Jan. 4. That’s the strategy — opening small to build buzz and then capitalizing by going wide around the Jan. 10 Academy Award nominations — that has been employed for a number of awards contenders.

The list includes Sony’s “Zero Dark Thirty,” DreamWorks’ and Disney’s “Lincoln,” Warner Bros.’ “Argo” and the Weinstein Company’s “Silver Linings Playbook.”

The move by Focus signals the studio’s confidence in the film, which stars Damon and John Krasinski of “The Office.” The actors also co-wrote the film from a story by Dave Eggers.

"Promised Land" depicts a salesman for a natural gas company who begins to look at life differently after starting work in a small town. Frances McDormand, Rosemarie DeWitt and Hal Holbrook fill out the cast for the film, which Participant Media co-financed.

The critics are lukewarm, with Movie Review Intelligence giving it a 54 percent positive and Rotten Tomatoes at 55 percent.”

“Lincoln,” with $122 million at the domestic box office, and “Argo,’ with $107 million, are ahead of the pack of Oscar hopefuls, while “Zero Dark Thirty” is setting a blistering early pace. “Silver Linings Playbook” has been flat.

“Zero Dark Thirty” will cross the $1 million mark this weekend after playing in five theaters since opening on Dec. 19. Kathryn Bigelow’s thriller about the manhunt for Osama bin Laden posted an $82,000 per-screen average in its opening weekend and has remained near that pace. It took in $87,036 on Wednesday.

The Weinstein Company expanded “Silver Linings Playbook,” David O. Russell’s dark comedy starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, to about 370 theaters on Nov. 23. It’s taken in more than $22 million since opening on Nov. 16, but has declined since the weekend of its initial expansion, when it brought in $4.3 million.

Also debuting this week on five screens is the Sony Pictures Classics documentary “West of Memphis,” Amy Berg's documentary about the West Memphis Three. Fran Walsh and Jackson, of “Hobbit” fame, along with Lorri Davis and Damien Echols, are the producers.

Also read: Sony Classics Picks Up 'West of Memphis' Documentary

Echols is one of the West Memphis Three — young men who were convicted of murdering three 8-year-old boys in Arkansas. The three were released from prison in 2011 after a private detective working on their behalf found evidence linking another person to the crime.

The documentary, which debuted at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, chronicles the new investigation surrounding Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr.