Musicals are very hit-or-miss at the box office: for every Chicago ($170.7 million) or Dreamgirls ($103.4 million), there's a Sweeney Todd ($52.9 million) or Nine ($19.7 million). At this point, at least, Les Miserables appears poised to wind up closer to the successes: it's based on one of the most popular musicals ever, has a killer cast (Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, among many others), and is getting plenty of awards buzz (even if many critics don't dig it). Marketing has been playing up these three areas while also focusing on the movie's most unique attribute: in an effort to get the best performances possible out of the actors, director Tom Hooper had them sing live on set. These various factors have made Les Miserables the top advanced ticket-seller ever on Fandango among Christmas Day releases ahead of 2009's Sherlock Holmes, and an opening day north of $10 million is definitely within reach.
Similar to Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained is a revenge tale set during a terrible part of world history (slavery instead of WWII) filtered through the writer-director's violent/comedic lens. Basterds wound up being his highest-grossing movie ever with $120.5 million at the domestic box office, and with an even more-impressive cast (Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson and more) and equally strong reviews the hope is that Django can perform similarly. Unfortunately, violent R-rated fare doesn't play great around the cheerful holiday: last year's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo started slowly around Christmas before riding strong word-of-mouth to over $100 million. As a result, it's likely that Django winds up lower than Les Miserables on opening day.
Parental Guidance is the final new nationwide release surrounding the Christmas holiday; while 20th Century Fox would prefer Cheaper by the Dozen numbers ($138.6 million and $82.6 million), it's more likely going to get Gulliver's Travels. Fox released that movie on Christmas Day in 2010, and after opening low it ultimately went on to earn a fine $42.8 million, which feels like the best-case-scenario for Parental Guidance.
As if there weren't enough options in nationwide release, there are also a handful of interesting movies opening in limited release this weekend. The biggest among these movies is easily Zero Dark Thirty, which chronicles the hunt for, and ultimately the killing of, Osama Bin Laden. The movie is already ginning up strong business ($124,848 at five locations on Wednesday) thanks to incredible reviews and a healthy dose of torture-related controversy, and should continue to put up great per-theater numbers throughout its exclusive New York/Los Angeles run. It is currently set for a nationwide expansion in to at least 2,500 locations on Jan. 11, which is a day after Academy Award nominations are announced.