SUNDAY AM, 7TH UPDATE: Both Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Warner Bros) as well as Alvin And The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (Fox) badly trailedthe openings of their previous installments. (Sherlock 1/$62.3M vs Sherlock 2/$40M and Alvin 2/$48.8M vs Alvin 3/$23.5M.) The Robert Downey Jr-starring and Guy Ritchie-directed Sherlock 2 total included $1.25M from 1,650 Thursday midnight shows. Audiences keep rejecting Hollywood’s sequels and threequels. Of course, the movie studios point out that both the last Sherlock and Alvin opened either on Christmas or after kids were already out of school. Execs are hoping to make up the difference before year’s end. But more pics will open, too, creating clutter. So if this weekend’s low grosses continue, then the domestic box office slump may very well ruin Christmas for Hollywood.

One bright spot is the new Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol which had the best major release per screen average all weekend helped by its higher IMAX ticket prices. It also opened with a huge $1.1 million playing on just 425 screens in 425 locations from Thursday evening through midnight shows. (As reference, M:I3 did $1.1M of midnight business on over 2,000 screens.) Wanna know why? Because it was goosed by none other than Warner Bros’ 6-minute The Dark Knight Rises preview on 40 of the 300 giant screen 70mm IMAX theaters. Paramount tells me that, because of strong early sales for midnight shows, IMAX asked to open Thursday evening to get the word of mouth started. Since Sherlock wasn’t booked into IMAX, Warner Bros couldn’t pair its ‘Batman 3′ prologue with its own product and lost a valuable marketing opportunity which went instead to Paramount on a silver platter. To say that Warner Bros was annoyed is an understatement. But there is a Dark Knight Rises teaser playing with Sherlock 2. The Tom Cruise-Jeremy Renner starrer directed by Brad Bird M:I4 expands this coming week — and then Hollywood will find out how the reformulated franchise fares on its own.

Here’s the Top 10. Full analysis in the morning:

1. Sherlock Holmes: Game Of Shadows (Warner Bros) NEW [3,703 Theaters]
Friday $14.7M, Saturday $15M, Weekend $40M

2. Alvin And The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (Fox) NEW [3,723 Theaters]
Friday $6.8M, Saturday $9.9M, Weekend $23.5M

3. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol 3D (Paramount) NEW [425 Theaters]
Friday $4.7M, Saturday $4.8M, Weekend $13M, Cume $13.6M

4. New Year’s Eve (Warner Bros) Week 2 [3,505 Theaters]
Friday $2.5M, Saturday $2.9M, Weekend $7.4M (-42%), Cume $24.8M)

5. The Sitter (Fox) Week 2 [2,752 Theater]
Friday $1.4M, Saturday $1.8M, Weekend $4.4M (-55%), Cume $17.7M

6. Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 (Summit) Week 5 [2,958 Theaters]
Friday $1.3M, Saturday, Weekend $4.3M, Cume $266.4M

7 Young Adult (Paramount) Week 2 [986 theaters]
Friday $1.1K, Saturday, Weekend $3.6M, Cume $4M

8. Hugo 3D (Paramount) Week 4 [2,532 Theaters]
Friday $1M, Saturday, Weekend $3.6M, Cume $39M

9. Arthur Christmas (Aardman/Sony) Week 5 [2,929 Theaters]
Friday $840K, Saturday $1.5M, Weekend $3.5M, Cume $38.5M

10. The Muppets (Disney) Week 4 [2,808 Theaters]
Friday $903K, Saturday, Weekend $3.4M, Cume $70.9M

Specialty Box Office: December 17-18

10:30 AM, 2ND UPDATE: Warner Bros is reporting that Sherlock Holmes 2: A Game Of Shadows opened to $1.25M from 1,650 midnight shows. That’s another very strong outing.

9:30 AM, UPDATE: It’s a holiday miracle considering how badly domestic box office has been slumping for the past five months. But now pent-up moviegoer demand for the big Christmas blockbusters — even though this weekend’s are three sequels — is looking to send grosses soaring. I’m told that, playing on just 425 screens in 425 locations from Thursday evening through midnight shows, the new Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol opened with a huge $1.1 million. As reference, M:I3 did $1.1M of midnight business on over 2,000 screens. ”This is a great start,” a Paramount exec gushed. Of course, Paramount’s M:I4 grosses were goosed by none other than Warner Bros’ The Dark Knight Rises 3D preview footage in IMAX theaters alongside the Tom Cruise-Jeremy Renner starrer. “It’s a pretty compelling package,” Paramount tells me. “Given how strong early sales were for midnight shows, IMAX asked to open Thursday evening to get the word of mouth started. Since the plan was getting people to see the film early, we gladly said OK.” This weekend, M:I4 debuts in just a handful of theaters — 425 runs — alongside what’s expected to be the biggest opener this holiday season in a very wide release, Warner Bros’ Sherlock Holmes 2: A Game Of Shadows, as well as Fox’s Alvin And The Chipmunks 3: Chipwrecked. Since Sherlock wasn’t booked into IMAX, Warner Bros couldn’t pair its Batman threequel prologue with its own product and lost a valuable marketing opportunity which went instead to Paramount on a silver platter. To say that Warner Bros was annoyed is an understatement. But I hear there is a Dark Knight Rises 2D teaser playing with Sherlock. More later today.

For more estimates listed by title, see box office results here...

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