Projection Booth: Can ‘Nativity’ Top Perky Penguins? God Only Knows …

Two of our experts think 'Story' will ride 'Passion of the Christ' crowd to box-office success.

Clearly the movie-release-schedule gods have a sense of humor. How else to explain the trio of new flicks getting wide releases this weekend at a time of year usually reserved for earnest, Oscar-friendly dramas?

First up is the latest in a burgeoning new genre of films that might be called “When Bad Things Happen to Beautiful People.” In “Turistas,” Josh Duhamel leaves behind his friendly “Las Vegas” digs for Brazil only to find a vacation that is probably only offered at the Hostel Tourism Agency (see “Forget The Surgery Scene: ‘Turistas’ Cast Says Film Isn’t ‘Hostel’ “ ). This flick aims to leave you screaming and squirming as you chug your overpriced beverage of choice.

If you fancy your flicks a tad more, um, biblical (there is no segue possible for this), then you will want to settle into a seat for “The Nativity Story.” Director Catherine Hardwicke (“Thirteen,” “Lords of Dogtown”) takes a sharp career turn with this retelling of the story of Mary and Joseph. If Mel Gibson didn’t have a movie coming out next week, we’re sure he’d be jealous.

Finally, one new release answers the question no one was posing: How do you make a “Van Wilder” movie without Van Wilder? The answer lies in “Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj,” a film that might as well be subtitled “The Rise of Kal Penn,” because that is who MGM is pinning their hopes on as they hand the budding franchise to a former supporting character from the original.

Come Monday, the box-office champ might end up being a movie already raking in the cash. Both “Happy Feet” (two consecutive weeks at #1) and “Casino Royale” (on track to be the biggest Bond movie ever) have shown great legs after two weeks in theaters. Both figure to make strong showings this go-round as well.

The Predictions: If you’re going to obsess about something as silly as box-office numbers, then why not make baseless predictions? That’s our philosophy at least, and it’s why our MTV Movies team and a revolving celebrity (this week: “Fraggle Rock” screenwriter Ahmet Zappa) give it a go week after week.

What’s the #1 flick? And how much is it raking in?

Larry Carroll, MTV News writer: “The Nativity Story” ($26 million)
“Maybe it’s because I’ve got a bad head cold and I’m messed up on Robitussin, or maybe it’s because I’m sick of those damn tap-dancing penguins. Either way, I think ‘The Nativity Story’ will surprise everyone by connecting with the ‘Passion of the Christ’ crowd and taking this weekend’s crown. I could see it making $26 million — just enough to become a hangnail for ‘Happy Feet.’ ”

Josh Horowitz, MTV Movies editor: “Happy Feet” ($20 million)
“My love for penguins knows no bounds after two weeks of riding their adorably happy feet to box-office-prediction victory. I can’t quit on them now. And I don’t think they’ll quit on me. Who doesn’t love a penguin?”

Ahmet Zappa, “Fraggle Rock” writer: “The Nativity Story” ($32 million) ” ‘The Nativity Story’, because there are a lot of people who love the Lord, and they’re gonna check it out. I think ‘The Nativity Story’ will make $32 million this weekend, and if I win, I would love to get a prize — do you guys ever send Hickory Farms smoked meats?”

Check out everything we’ve got on “Turistas,” “The Nativity Story” and “Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj.”

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