'Jack Reacher,' Judd Apatow Prepare To Do Battle Against 'The Hobbit'

Despite the competition from new releases, 'Hobbit' is expected to maintain top spot at the box office.

An ex-military hero, a professional bogeymen and middle age itself will do battle with Middle Earth at the box office this weekend. Newcomers "Jack Reacher" (starring Tom Cruise), the 3-D re-release of "Monsters, Inc.," Judd Apatow's sort-of "Knocked Up" sequel "This Is 40" and the Seth Rogen/ Barbra Streisand comedy "The Guilt Trip" will all compete against last weekend's #1 film, "The Hobbit," for that highly coveted Christmas coin at the box office.

"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is expected to hold on to the top spot for a second weekend. But despite breaking the December opening record, its $84.6 million debut was still below many expectations that had predicted a figure closer to $100 million. It's per-screen average of about $20,000 wasn't very strong, either.

"The fact that such a franchise film couldn't make over $25,000 per venue is indicative of the deleterious effect that poor reviews can have on a title, coupled with the general sense of malaise surrounding this film," IMDB.com's Keith Simanton noted to MTV News. This year's blockbusters "Marvel's the Avengers," "The Dark Knight Rises," "The Hunger Games" and "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2" all had bigger per-screen averages.

"The Hobbit" did manage a 65 percent "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which aggregates reviews from film critics. But all three of the "Lord of the Rings" movies scored above 90 percent. "Jack Reacher" sat right near "The Hobbit" at 64 percent at press time, with some of the positive reviews still calling the role a stretch for Cruise.

Most industry forecasters seem to agree that "Jack Reacher" has the best chance of beating "The Hobbit." Still, with some fans of the Lee Child books from which the character is drawn complaining about the adaptation, it's unlikely that Cruise's turn as the character will spawn a "Mission: Impossible"-sized series for Paramount.

"Paramount feels that they have a new Tom Cruise franchise with Jack Reacher, yet their tepid marketing speaks that they are, at their core, not so sure," said MovieFanatic.com's Joel Amos. "It may have more to do with the fact that Cruise's latest action hero, Ethan Hunt, was a blockbuster merely 12 months ago, and perhaps Reacher feels a bit too 'Mission'-ish. How to promote a film when it, on the outside, looks like a gruffer version of the star's last film is one serious high-wire act. As for box office, he's still Tom Cruise and I wouldn't bet against him."

"Jack Reacher" will probably open around $15 million, which is a few million more than "This Is 40." The fourth film directed by Judd Apatow centers around the characters played by Paul Rudd and Apatow's real-life wife Leslie Mann in "Knocked Up." Frequent Apatow collaborator Seth Rogen stars alongside Barbra Streisand in "The Guilt Trip," which actually opened on Wednesday. The movie likely won't fare any better than "This Is 40" this weekend.

Disney/Pixar's 3-D re-release of "Monsters, Inc.," featuring the voices of John Goodman and Billy Crystal as cuddly professional scary creatures, also opened on Wednesday. Disney had massive success with the 3-D re-release of "The Lion King," but each subsequent attempt to repeat that success has failed to live up to Simba and company.

" 'The Lion King' opened to $30 million, but then came 'Beauty and the Beast' in 3-D, which made $22 million on 300 more screens," said Simanton. "Finding Nemo 3-D" followed in an even wider release, but opened to only $16 million. "Monsters, Inc." will probably do even less. It made less than $1 million its first day back in theaters.

Speaking of 3-D, "Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away" (produced by the man responsible for the ongoing 3-D craze, James Cameron) will open in limited release. Cameron's ex-wife, Kathryn Bigelow, directed "Zero Dark Thirty," which opened in five theaters earlier this week (it expands nationwide in January). The likely Best Picture contender is based on true events that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. "The Impossible," starring Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts, is also based on a true story. The tsunami drama will open in limited release this weekend. "On the Road," with Kristen Stewart in a supporting role, will open in four theaters; it's based on the famous Jack Kerouac book.

Check out everything we've got on "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," and "This Is 40."