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 [article id="1544338"]" 'Saw III' Carves Up Competition With Jigsaw's Biggest Weekend Yet"[/article]). 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 [article id="1544174"]"Jigsaw's Already Back For More? 'Saw III' Team Sets Up 'Saw IV' "[/article]).

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."

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