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‘Mission: Impossible’ expected to ring in 2012 still at No. 1

By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — The party won’t stop for Tom Cruise over New Year’s, as the actor’s latest “Mission: Impossible” sequel is expected to be the No. 1 film at the box office for the second consecutive weekend.

“Ghost Protocol,” the fourth installment in Paramount Pictures’ action franchise, collected an impressive $44.1 million over the four-day Christmas holiday and should gross a similar figure again this long weekend. During the last week — one of the busiest of the year for the movie business, with children out of school and many adults off work — the film was the top choice among filmgoers every day. On Wednesday alone, the picture collected $8.5 million, bringing its domestic total to $94.6 million.

With no new films being released nationwide this weekend, those already out should see small drops or even slight increases in ticket sales. In fact, the majority of films that played over New Year’s weekend in 2005 — the last year when New Year’s Day fell on a Sunday — saw receipts rise over the New Year’s holiday.

Over the last few days, both “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked” have done solid business. After opening to soft ticket sales two weeks ago, each picture has made up some ground — particularly “Sherlock Holmes,” which this week surpassed the $100 million mark at the box office. The third animated movie in the “Chipmunks” series has made about $70 million so far. Still, each film is lagging significantly behind its predecessor; after 14 days in release in 2009, “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” had grossed almost $160 million, while the original “Sherlock Holmes” had raked in around $150 million.

The other high-profile holiday releases will all probably be in a close competition for the fourth through seventh positions on the box-office chart. David Fincher’s R-rated “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” may have a slight edge, as it came in fourth Wednesday with $4.2 million. But three films directed at family audiences — “War Horse” and “The Adventures of Tintin,” both directed by Steven Spielberg, and “We Bought a Zoo” — will be in a tight race for the latter positions.

In limited release, the Weinstein Co. will premiere the Margaret Thatcher biopic “The Iron Lady” in four theaters. The former British prime minister is played by Meryl Streep, whose performance is considered a shoo-in for a best actress nomination in the upcoming Academy Awards.

Focus Features, meanwhile, opened this year’s Sundance Film Festival hit “Pariah” in four theaters Wednesday. The well-reviewed film, about a lesbian teenager growing up in a conservative family, played in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco and brought in more than $21,000.

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