Projection Booth: Will Ben Stiller Knock Out Rocky Balboa?

Or will 'We Are Marshall' score a surprise TKO?

Leading men past and present are duking it out this weekend for the coveted #1 spot at the box office.

No, you’re not trapped in a time warp: That is indeed Sylvester Stallone starring in a high-profile flick that’s getting a ton of buzz this week. And it’s not just any flick — it’s the sixth installment of the “Rocky” series (see ” ‘Heroes’ Star Sheds ‘Dirty’ Past To Become Rocky Balboa’s Son” ). What seemed at first glance to be the ultimate punch line to a career that’s experienced more than its share of near-knockouts could turn out to be one of Sly’s finest hours if the reviews are to be trusted. “Rocky Balboa” got an early jump on the competition by opening Wednesday and promptly soared to the #1 spot and earned Stallone his best notices in a film since “Cop Land.”

Is a boxing film filled with manly Stallone-isms (“Nobody ain’t never gonna hit as hard as life”) not enough testosterone for you? Then perhaps the cute-guy duo of Matthew McConaughey and Matthew Fox will do the trick. They star in “We Are Marshall,” your inspirational sports film of the season (see “Not Any Given Sports Movie”). The two Matthews play coaches of the Marshall University football team in the wake of an airplane tragedy that decimated the team and the town. Helmed by an unlikely director for such a topic, McG of “Charlie’s Angels” note, this one hopes to have you cheering right before you get set to plop down on the couch for all your favorite Bowl games.

If there is a new flick at the multiplex that looks to be the one to beat this weekend, it would have to be “Night at the Museum” (see “Ben Stiller Hopes His ‘Night At The Museum’ Will Last Forever” ). In the tradition of all the best high-concept comedies, this one seems to be made for box-office greatness. Imagine the surefire pitch: Ben Stiller in a museum where everything comes to life. Now it’s time to see if this childhood fantasy come to life can be the juggernaut many expect it to be. It’s got plenty of CGI dinosaurs, Owen Wilson and a turn by Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt to back it up. It’s as close to a sure thing as you’re likely to see at the box office.

“Rocky Balboa,” “We Are Marshall” and “Night at the Museum” only employ so many actors, so you might be wondering, where are the rest of them? Well, it appears they’re all in “The Good Shepherd.” Yes, all of them.

At long last, Robert De Niro is releasing his second directorial effort, about the founding of the CIA, and it seems like one or two favors might been called in. Boasting a cast that includes everyone from Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie to Billy Crudup, Alec Baldwin, Joe Pesci (he lives!), William Hurt, John Turturro and of course De Niro himself, “The Good Shepherd” may be the new favorite film of the Screen Actors Guild.

The Predictions: Put down that egg nog and step away from the mistletoe: There is box-office predicting to be done, and you are in the place for it. Week after glorious week, our esteemed prognosticators gather to make like the Ghost of Box Office Future. This week we’re joined by Kevin Munroe, the director of one of the must-see flicks of 2007, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Little does Kevin know it will take all his ninja powers to do battle with the MTV crew and reign supreme in the Projection Booth.

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

· Larry Carroll, MTV News writer: “Night at the Museum” ($36 million)
“My money is on Peter O’Toole and ‘Venus’ … nah, on second thought, I’ll go with ‘Night at the Museum,’ which seems like it could be a ‘Jumanji’-like hit. Stiller owned the holidays a few years back with ‘Meet the Fockers,’ and I see this as another success for him. I’m going with $38 million.”

· Josh Horowitz, MTV Movies editor: “Night at the Museum” ($50 million)
“I’ve been watching audiences ooh and ahh at the trailer for this one for months. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion all those people are going to pack up the kids and take the whole family to this over the weekend. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the blockbuster of the season.”

· Kevin Munroe, director of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”: “Night at the Museum” ($43.2 million)
“I’d put my money on ‘Night at the Museum,’ because it’s gonna be a Christmas weekend and I think the family all-ages audience is a lot stronger, as evidenced by this year. The way ‘Happy Feet’ and a lot of those other bigger shows have done … and I think there’s an element of fun and ‘Ghostbusters’ feel to that movie that I think is gonna appeal to a pretty big audience. Between Wednesday and Monday, I’d go for $43 million … point two.”

Check out everything we’ve got on “Rocky Balboa,” “We Are Marshall” and “Night at the Museum.”

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