Projection Booth: Will The Joke Be On Borat — Or Santa Claus?

Kid comedy takes on raucous Kazakhstani this weekend.

There’s nothing funny about the battle for the box-office lead this weekend as three big comedies make their debut. Their respective hunger to be #1 might be the only thing this trio have in common, though.

Certainly the family comedy “The Santa Clause 3″ has its built-in die-hard fans (though we haven’t actually met any of them). The first “Clause” raked in $19 million in its opening weekend, and the series followed up with a $29 million take the second go-round. Also opening is “Flushed Away,” the latest computer-animated flick from DreamWorks and the team that brought you “Wallace & Gromit.”

And then there’s “Borat.” What to make out of the crazy Kazakhstani reporter’s adventures through America? It is perhaps the most buzzed-about comedy since last year’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” but there are serious questions whether the out-there creation of Ali G’s Sacha Baron Cohen can pack theaters from state to state. Fox is hoping a mid-level release in approximately 800 theaters this weekend can get the word-of-mouth machine rolling.

Holdovers from last week’s top 10 that will try to make some noise this weekend include “Saw III” and “The Departed” (see ” ‘Saw III’ Carves Up Competition With Jigsaw’s Biggest Weekend Yet” ). The dominating performance of the former is sure to take a steep drop as is usually the case with horror flicks. But shed no tears: The “Saw” team took in more than enough candy (i.e. cash) to keep them smiling until next Halloween, when “Saw IV” is due (see “Jigsaw’s Already Back For More? ‘Saw III’ Team Sets Up ‘Saw IV’ “ ).

Of note, opening in limited release this weekend is the latest from Penélope Cruz and famed Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar, “Volver.” The director and his muse received awards at Cannes this year — so pick up your tickets early if you want to hobnob with your smarty-pants friends this weekend and read the subtitles.

The Predictions: Our panel of movie watchers and guest stars weigh in, week in and week out, with their brave box-office predictions. Check back on Monday to see who has earned the right to be called King of the Box-Office Prognosticators — or Biggest Nerd. (Same difference, really.)

What will be the #1 flick? And how much will it rake in?

Larry Carroll, MTV News writer: “Borat” ($15 million)
“Although ‘Borat’ is only going to open on one-third as many screens, I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’ll just edge out Tim Allen’s latest opus, earning $15 million. If ever a movie deserved to pull off an upset, it’s this one.”

Josh Horowitz, MTV Movies editor: “The Santa Clause 3″ ($28 million)
“I low-balled ‘Saw III’ last week. I won’t make the same mistake again this week with the new #1. Tim Allen’s holiday comedies are money in the bank.”

Joe Carnahan, director of “Narc” and “Smokin’ Aces”: “The Santa Clause 3″ ($22.5 million)
” ‘The Santa Clause 3′ wins, because it’s that 80-mile-an-hour fastball that is just going to be right down the plate. The release strategy is what they did with ‘Elf’: They get it out there and hopefully it has some legs.”

Check out everything we’ve got on “Borat” and “The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause.”

Visit Movies on MTV.com for more from Hollywood, including news, reviews, interviews and more.

Want trailers? Visit the Trailer Park for the newest, scariest and funniest coming attractions anywhere.