In Theaters This Weekend: November 23, 2012

Three brand new films open in wide release this weekend, as we continue along the awards-caliber train that is November. Over the past few weeks we've seen award hopeful films like "Lincoln", "Silver Linings Playbook" (which gets its wide expansion this weekend), "Flight", and others hit theaters. This weekend, "Life of Pi" enters the mix, as Ang Lee's visually ambition tale of spirituality and self-discovery opens. Alongside it, "Rise of the Guardians", DreamWorks' addition to the already-crowded field vying for the five Best Animated Feature spots, opens wide as well. And to round out the group, though I don't expect it to receive any awards buzz, if you're looking for a slightly nostalgic throwback to the 80's, and have interest in seeing some big explosions made by some of this generation's biggest up-and-coming stars, "Red Dawn" might be the escapist film for you.

Hit the jump for a full rundown on each of these titles as well as my thoughts for the weekend box office numbers.

I'll start with "Life of Pi", as this seems to be the film getting the most buzz these days. As previously mentioned, the film is directed by Ang Lee ("Brokeback Mountain") and centers around a young Indian boy lost at see for more than 200 days. With few resources, he's hurled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery. Unfortunately, outside of what else we've seen in trailers, this is where my knowledge of this storyline ends. Though I know the film is based on a best-selling novel of the same title, I've never read it. None of the trailers give me enough to get excited about, but judging from the buzz already surrounding the film and the comments that other critics have made on it, this will surely be one worth checking out. I hear the visual effects are simply stunning, and Ang Lee's vision for the film is spot-on.

Currently, the film has a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with nearly every critic pointing out the beautiful 3D stylings the film has to offer. It looks like this will be an enjoyable picture for adults and children alike, and due to my lack of familiarity with the source material, I don't have much else to add. I'm sure I'll check this out out in theaters, but I don't know if it'll be opening weekend. If you choose to, I'm convinced you'll be blown away with the visuals and hopefully the story will be just as intriguing. From what I hear, opt for the 3D where available. It'll be a few extra bucks, but just as was the case with "Avatar" and "Hugo", it looks like this one is a top-tier necessity. I don't know what else you can expect outside of that, but with many expecting this to be a Best Picture nominee (and some even have it as the front-runner), there must be plenty here worth absorbing. Most all age groups and demographics should take a chance on this one.

I'll go next to "Rise of the Guardians", the holiday-themed 3D animated film from DreamWorks Animation Studios. When an evil spirit launches an assault on Earth, the Immortal Guardians (Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, The Sandman, Jack Frost, The Tooth Fairy, etc.) team up to protect the innocence of children all around the world. This seems like a fun concept to me, though I've never fully bought-in to the animation stylings of the film. The voice cast, which includes Hugh Jackman, Jude Law, Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Isla Fisher and more, is solid, as is nearly a given these days with big studio animated films.

I'm generally not very enthusiastic about animated films to begin with, and the fact that this one is already sitting at a 67% on Rotten Tomatoes isn't any more encouraging. While that's only amongst a handful of reviews so far - and we could see this number change significantly by the end of the weekend - all of them had about the same things to say: the visuals are grand, but the heart of the story never fully shines through. It sounds like tots may enjoy it simply for their connection to these already-known characters and the fact that it's a colorful explosion on the screen, but if you're an adult, this might not hit as well as you were hoping. That being said, many still expect this to be among the last five standing when nominations for Best Animated Feature are handed out, so, in a year when there are a lot of great animated films to choose from already, the fact that it's in that conversation might be of some significance.

Even if reviews were stronger, this just isn't the type of animated film I'm heading to theaters for. Films like "Wreck-It Ralph" and "Frankenweenie" have intrigued me, but this does little. I imagine the visuals will be great, so if you have kiddos, this should be a fine selection; for adults, don't expect a lot more than a grand scale animated children's film.

Finally this week we have "Red Dawn". The film is a remake of the 1984 "classic", and stars Chis Hemsworth, Josh Peck, Josh Hutcherson, Adrienne Palicki, Isabel Lucas, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. For those unfamiliar, the film centers around a group of teens who have to band together and save their town from a a North Korean invasion (it was the Soviets in '84).

What's most interesting about this film (to me, at least) is that, if you've had your ear in this business for a while, you'll recall that this film was originally announced back in 2008 and started production in 2009. It was completed by the end of that year, but just around that time, MGM, the studio behind its production, had some financial troubles and many of their productions were shelved. This sat for over three years until the studio finally had the resources to release it (and they have done some re-shoots and effects touch-ups since then, so it hasn't just been gathering dust for three years). Getting to my point, the part that worked out incredibly well for them is, back in 2009, did anyone really know or care who Chris Hemsworth, Adrienne Palicki, or even Josh Hutcherson were? Outside of a few small things, not really. So while it hurt the studio at the time having to shelve a film with a $75MM budget, ultimately, even if it still doesn't do incredibly well, I'm led to believe it will do better now than it ever would have before.

And speaking of how well it might do, the fact that early reviews have been generally negative isn't very promising. Again, only amongst a handful of reviews so far, but already its sitting at a lowly 27%. I think the young, popular cast can still get some butts in the seats, but this one might not ever hit that $75MM mark in theaters. Most of it will depend on how high school crowds react and talk about this film though. Is this the type of thing younger audiences are into? I'm not sure
. Because I enjoyed the original, I will eventually want to see this. I won't make it a priority in theaters (at least not as of now), but I could imagine this being a fun, mindless theater watch for the winter months. I don't think this is any kind of sure thing, and more than likely, there's probably more chance this will disappoint than satisfy, but if you venture out and aren't expecting more than some fun action, I can see this being a decent selection. If you decide to give it a pass though and wait for the DVD, that's probably just fine too.

As for some box office predictions. Last weekend we saw the second-highest totals of the year and the sixth-highest weekend numbers of all-time. Needless to say, that's a lot to live up to and in all likelihood we can expect a step back this weekend. Twilight led the new releases last weekend with just over $140MM. Historically, the Twilight films drop-off pretty drastically in their second weekends, usually by 60%-70%. I expect similar results here as well, which would make for something like $40MM-$45MM this weekend. "Skyfall" made $41MM and should hold a around 50% in its third week, so expect something around $20MM-$25MM for it. "Lincoln" debuted with $21MM in its wide release, and if it holds like comparables "Argo" and "Flight" have, we might expect something around $16MM in its second weekend.

As for the new releases, even if "Life of Pi" will be more acclaimed, I question the connection it will have with general movie-goers. How notable is that novel in America? It might not make a big difference, but even comparring it to something like "Cloud Atlas" in terms of ambition and epic visual scale, that film completely missed with audiences, so the same seems possible here. That being said, this film targets family audiences much more, and already has critics lauding over it being a visual spectacle, so I am convinced it will do better than Atlas did. The 3D showings should help boost its numbers as well, as I expect many will want to check this one out in that format. I'm unsure with this picture, but something like $25MM over Thanksgiving weekend seems like a safe bet. But "Rise of the Guardians" should still take the lead amongst new films, at the very least. Some recent DreamWorks animated films to release have been "Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted" and "Puss in Boots". Madagascar 3 was a summer release from this year, while "Puss in Boots" released about this time last year. The films had $60MM and $34MM opening weekend grosses, respectively, and I expect "Rise of the Guardians" to fall somewhere in the middle, probably closer to the $60MM end of things. A family animated film about holiday heroes over Thanksgiving weekend sounds like a recipe for success to me. With how much money we saw this last weekend, a total approaching the $60MM that Madagascar 3 made this summer seems possible, but I'm going to scale things back just a bit and say something right around $50MM-$55MM seems more plausible.

"Red Dawn" shouldn't factor much into this weekend's box office numbers, ultimately probably duking it out with "Lincoln" in the $15MM-17MM range for the fifth spot.

Those are the films we can look forward to this weekend, which will you be checking out?