"Earth" set to spin to No. 1 at box office

Hollywood is still waiting to unwrap most of its Christmas offerings, but the box office should get an early holiday present this weekend as Fox launches the sci-fi-themed "The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)."


The family-oriented remake, directed by Scott Derrickson ("The Exorcism of Emily Rose"), combines a classic title -- the original 1951 movie -- with civilization-threatening special effects that suggest images from such previous Fox hits as "Independence Day" and "The Day After Tomorrow."


Keanu Reeves plays the otherworldly visitor Klaatu, embodied by Michael Rennie in the original, as the actor returns to the sci-fi arena that served him well with the "The Matrix" movies and "Constantine." As an added attraction to further entice fanboys to rush the multiplexes, Fox has attached a first-look trailer for "X-Men Origins: Wolverine."


If "Earth" were a summer movie, it probably would enjoy a gangbusters weekend. But the pre-Christmas frame is another matter, though with "Quantum of Solace" heading into its fifth weekend, there's room for a new action movie.


Last year in the comparable frame, the dystopian "I Am Legend" opened to a stellar $77.2 million, but that movie starred Will Smith, arguably the biggest star in the world. The conservative bets see "Earth" opening somewhere in the mid-$20 million range. But other prognosticators foresee it moving into the $30 million-$40 million territory.


Elsewhere, Overture Films will introduce the Latin-flavored "Nothing Like the Holidays," which is shaping up as a nice niche play that could score a $5 million-$6 million opening.


The comedy-drama visits a Puerto Rican clan as they assemble for one last Christmas together in the family home in Chicago. John Leguizamo stars as the son who brings along his high-maintenance wife (Debra Messing); Elizabeth Pena and Alfred Molina appear as the battling parents; and the rest of the cast includes Freddy Rodriguez, Luis Guzman and Vanessa Ferlito. Alfredo De Villa directs.


While Disney's "Bolt," in its fourth weekend, should continue to reach out to the family audience, Freestyle Releasing will attempt to find traction for another computer-animated movie, "Delgo." The fantasy-adventure, though, is probably fated for an opening in the lower single-digit millions.


With "Earth" spinning into the top spot, last weekend's top five probably will just all move down a notch or two, led by incumbent champ "Four Christmases" and "Twilight."


There will be lots of activity on the specialty front.


Three awards hopefuls -- Miramax's "Doubt," the Weinstein Co.'s "The Reader" and Warner Bros.' "Gran Torino" -- make their debuts, while "Milk," "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Frost / Nixon" will be adding screens. Weinstein Co.'s "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," armed with its four Golden Globe nominations, returns to 25 screens in the U.S. in the top 20 markets and three screens in Canada. And the epic "Che," from IFC Films, will slip into theaters in New York and Los Angeles for a one-week Academy-qualifying run.


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