‘Life of Pi,’ ‘Rise of Guardians’ Debut, but It’s Still ‘Twilight’ Time

"Twilight: Breaking Dawn 2" is expected to keep its box-office crown with around $65M over the Thanksgiving weekend, with "Rise of the Guardians" second

Ang Lee’s lyrical epic “Life of Pi,” the computer-animated 3D holiday tale “Rise of the Guardians” and the “Red Dawn” reboot all debut in theaters Wednesday, as the holiday movie season kicks into high gear.

But the current No. 1, “Twilight: Breaking Dawn 2,” will almost surely out-earn the newcomers and dominate the Thanksgiving weekend box office, with a second week that analysts are projecting will hit $65 million over the five days. DreamWorks Animation’s “Rise of the Guardians” will wind up with around $55 million and run second, they say.

Add in sturdy holdovers like Sony’s record-breaking James Bond movie “Skyfall” and Disney’s animated “Wreck-It Ralph,” along with expanding awards hopefuls “Lincoln” and “Silver Linings Playbook,” and it shapes up as a very busy weekend at the cineplexes.

Summit Entertainment's "Breaking Dawn 2" remains in 4,070 theaters after rolling up $141 million in its U.S. debut last weekend.

Also read: 'Twilight: Breaking Dawn 2' Rules Box-Office World

That was the year's fourth best opening — behind "The Avengers," "Dark Knight Rises" and "The Hunger Games" — but fell short of the franchise-best $142.8 million set by "New Moon" in 2009. "Breaking Dawn" is expected to play more strongly abroad than domestically, and the first-week numbers reflect that: It took in nearly $200 million in its first week of release overseas.

"In the U.S., it didn't get that finale bump that the last Harry Potter movie did, which was surprising," Exhibitor Relations senior analyst Jeff Bock told TheWrap, "Its fan base was committed, but Summit couldn't expand it beyond that."

"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2" opened to $169 million in 2011, well ahead of "Deathly Hallows 2," which opened to $125 million the previous year. 

"Skyfall," which took in $41 million in its second week as it became the top-grossing Bond film of all time, is looking at a five-day total of around $39 million, the analysts say. Its worldwide gross now stands at $672 million, $507 million of which has come from overseas.

Buoyed by surprisingly strong results, Disney is expanding “Lincoln” into roughly 2,000 theaters, up from 1,775, on Friday. The DreamWorks Oscar contender was a surprise No. 3 finisher with $21 million last weekend, well above analysts’ and the studio’s projections. It's projected to finish with $24 million over the long weekend.

Among the newcomers, Oscar contender “The Life of Pi” is the most difficult to peg in terms of box-office potential.

It’s hard to imagine a tale tougher to bring to the screen than Yann Martel's 2001 saga of an Indian youth lost at sea with a ravenous Bengal tiger aboard his small lifeboat and their ensuing adventures. But Lee brought martial arts (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) and gay cowboys (“Brokeback Mountain”) into the movie mainstream, and he’s employed the highest-tech digital tools to bring David Magee’s adaptation to life in 3D.

Indian Suraj Sharma, who was 17 and had no acting experience when he shot “Pi,” plays the lead and spends a good bit of the film alone in a boat with the tiger. 

Also read: 'Life of Pi' Review: Ang Lee Takes a Leap of Faith – And Soars

The critics love it (92 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes), calling it gorgeous, innovative and a provocative and soulful examination of faith. Those are admirable qualities in a film, but hardly requisites for — or a guarantee of — box office success.

Fox has the PG-rated “Pi” in 2,902 theaters — 2,633 of which are 3D — and it will have the advantage of premium pricing going for it. Analysts see it opening with about $22 million over the five days, and feel its long-term playability will hinge on word-of-mouth and awards buzz.

In terms of the box office, the most comparable film could be last year's Martin Scorsese-directed 3D family adventure "Hugo." Paramount opened that film around the same time last year to $11 million, and it went on to make $73 million, $185 million worldwide.

With its international cast and exotic settings, "Pi" is another example of a film expected to perform far better internationally than in the U.S. Fox is rolling it out in Puerto Rico and Taiwan Wednesday, China and Hong Kong on Thursday, and in India on Friday. With Lee's following in China and young star Sharma expected to draw crowds in India, those two markets should give it fast start overseas.

“Pi” was produced for $120 million by Lee, Fox 2000 and special effects firm Rhythm and Hues.

Distributor Paramount is rolling out DreamWorks Animation’s computer animated family film “Rise of the Guardians” at 3,653 locations, 2,900 of which will be 3D or Imax screens. This is the last movie Paramount will distribute for DreamWorks Animation, which has signed a new five-year deal with Fox.

The holiday rollout is a natural for the PG-rated “Rise of the Guardians,” which has a star-studded voice cast, and is executive produced by Guillermo Del Toro and produced by Gary Goetzman.

Also read: Why Disney Ceded Its Turkey Day Slot to 'Rise of the Guardians'

Based on the William Joyce’s “Guardians of Childhood” series, it tells the tale of Jack Frost (Chris Pine), who gets help from Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher) and the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman) after the evil Pitch (Jude Law) threatens the children of the world. First-timer Peter Ramsey directs.

Awareness of the film is strong, and the critics think it’s pretty good. Seventy percent of the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are positive, 67 percent at Movie Review Intelligence. DreamWorks Animation has been on a hot streak, and this its first release since "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted," which has made over $735 million worldwide this year.

“Red Dawn” is a remake of the 1984 John Millius war film that helped launch the careers of young stars Patrick Swayze, Lea Thompson, Jennifer Grey and Charlie Sheen. Released at the peak of the Cold War, its populist and patriotic themes resonated strongly. In that film, Swayze’s character leads a group of teens who turn guerrilla fighters to resist Soviet and Cuban invaders who are occupying their state.

Shot in 2009, the “Red Dawn” reboot was to have been released in 2010, but was delayed by the financial troubles of the studio behind it, MGM.

Also read: 'Red Dawn' Review: Remake Swaps Jingoism for Adolescent War Fantasy

Since then, the careers of several of the film’s stars have taken off. Since shooting “Red Dawn,” Chris Hemsworth has starred in “Thor,” “The Avengers” and “Snow White and the Huntsman,” while Josh Peck was featured in “The Hunger Games.” Josh Hutcherson, Adrianne Palicki, Isabel Lucas and Jeffrey Dean Morgan co-star.

This "Red Dawn" plays more like an action film and is less jingoistic than the original, and FilmDistrict has marketed it that way. In addition to targeting fan boys at the Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, and college campuses,  "Red Dawn" has been shown at more than 100 military bases. The cast did a special screening at Port Hueneme Naval Base in Oxnard, Calif.

Speaking of militaries, while the film was on the shelf: the filmmakers digitally turned the invaders from Chinese into North Koreans after angry denunciations of the portrayals from the Beijing press. The switch shouldn't hurt at the Chinese box office, either.

FilmDistrict is opening the PG-13-rated “Red Dawn” in 2,600 theaters.The original made the equivalent of $90 million when adjusted to today's ticket prices, while this reboot will be fortunate to make half that amount. A five-day total of around $15 million is what the analysts are projecting for the opening.

Fox Searchlight is rolling out “Hitchcock,” starring Anthony Hopkins as the late director Alfred Hitchcock, in 17 theaters on Friday.

Directed by Sacha Gervasi, with a screenplay from John G. McLaughlin, the film explores the relationship between Hitchcock and his wife and partner Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) while they were working on “Psycho,” one of his most successful films.

Also read: 'Hitchcock' Has Fun, Kristen Stewart Draws a Crowd at AFI Fest

Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, Jessica Biel, Toni Collette, Michael Wincott, and James D’Arcy co-star in the Montecito Picture Company production.

“Hitchcock” premiered at the AFI Film Festival and has been well-received by the critics. It has a 76 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Fox Searchlight plans to expand the film gradually over the next three weeks, ahead of its national release on Dec. 14, when it will be on between 500 and 600 theaters.

The Weinstein Company is expanding its Oscar hopeful “Silver Linings Playbook” into 367 theaters. The dark romantic comedy is directed by David O. Russell and stars Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro.

“Silver Linings Playbook” averaged $28,652 on 16 screens in its debut and was to have expanded into 2,000 theaters on Wednesday. But the Weinstein Co. shifted gears last week and decided on a more gradual platform release in hopes of building awards buzz. The Weinstein Co. knows Oscar campaigns; they were behind the last two Best Picture winners, “The King’s Speech” and “The Artist.”