Though you would think that Hollywood would be loading up on great movies for the end of the year (and it’s been a darn good year), most of the wide releases this weekend are a little weak. Maybe not on paper, but now that we’re here they don’t stand a chance against The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Some of this is weird/the studio’s fault. Paramount has two pictures coming out between Wednesday and Friday. The Guilt Trip and Jack Reacher. Reacher may have the best chance this weekend of doing business, but Paramount was decidedly slow in promoting the film, which stars Tom Cruise.  Cruise, though weathering a rough decade of public scrutiny, is still a major star and is coming off of last year’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, which was a huge hit. So what gives? It looks like the production cost $65 Million, so between the next couple weekends of business, as long as it doesn’t turn up DOA, between international and domestic and ancillaries it should turn a profit. And these days $65 Million is a medium budget for a studio, so by not going all out in advertising, and with the interest in Cruise and the general “It’s okay” vibe the film is getting in reviews, they are going to make money. But to turn it into an event will hurt the bottom line.

Paramount was much more interested in The Guilt Trip, because there are some X factors there. Though she appeared in the Fockers sequels, Barbra Streisand hasn’t been in a leading role since 1996. Will her fans come out? And will the combination of her plus Seth Rogen lead to a crossover hit? Sleepy family comedies can do business, that’s why there’s another coming out in a couple of days. But this should – at least on paper – have a better chance of doing business. It’s not tracking to open, but this could play. It all depends on older women, who may not go as soon as possible to see it.

Judd Apatow‘s This is 40 looks like a misfire. Part of this is the Apatow branding, which got diluted very quickly. Over the last couple years, he’s been associated with so many comedies, and so many comedies that didn’t work – not all of which were even produced by him. When you have a clique of actors like Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, etc. even when they appear in something that isn’t his, it feels like it might be an Apatow production (like I Love You, Man or Dinner for Schmucks), but more than anything comedy goes through cycles, and when Apatow wanted to veer into something more serious like Funny People, audiences weren’t ready to go with him. Perhaps partly because there was always an underlying pathos to his work already, perhaps partly because The Hangover suggested that there were other options. None of this has anything to do with talent or quality.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle for audiences is that This is 40 doesn’t look like a lot of people’s 40. The core issues may be things the audience is going through, but when a film presents a way to dismiss it outright, people may do just that. Not being affluent, white, or having kids already eliminates a lot of people who might have been interested in a Paul Rudd/Leslie Mann comedy from the director of two films that audiences loved. If the movie is good, it could connect.

Monsters, Inc. is also out in theaters in a 3D version. It’s the freshest and oldest viewing options for kids, and they may get stuck watching it while parents do last minute Christmas shopping.

So, with nothing a huge must see, The Hobbit will triumph. Let’s get to the predicting:

  1. The Hobbit 1:  $40 Million
  2. Jack Reacher: $17.5 Million
  3. This is 40: $13.5 Million
  4. Monsters, Inc. 3D: $12.5 Million
  5. The Guilt Trip: $10 Million

Maybe Reacher does more, some of these could do less.

What are you going to watch this weekend?