The Biggest Box-Office Battles of the Year: Who Will Win?

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Call it a clash of the titans. Steven Spielberg, David Fincher, and Cameron Crowe are three of the biggest directors in Hollywood and this year, all three have movies coming out on the exact same day. You rarely get a matchup of this caliber on the release calendar, but 2011 is already so overstuffed with franchise hopefuls and megabudget superhero flicks that there are several box-office battle royales brewing. When there are so many movies fighting for the same audience, who will come out ahead? Vulture's taken a look at the nine most intriguing matchups to pick a winner.

April 8
Arthur
Your Highness
Hanna
Soul Surfer

VERDICT: Any of these four movies could be a spring sleeper, but not when they're coming out the same weekend. Medieval stoner comedy Your Highness will try to use James Franco, Danny McBride, and Natalie Portman in a thong to entice young men, but Arthur's Russell Brand splits the Apatow demographic. Meanwhile, the fierce teen girls of Hanna and Soul Surfer (not to mention Portman's Your Highness warrior woman) threaten to cancel each other out. Your Highness could take the weekend based on star power alone, but Hanna should flee this crowded space for a month that's not already overloaded with action and Comic Con bait.

May 27
The Hangover Part II
Kung Fu Panda 2
The Tree of Life

VERDICT: This could be the biggest matchup of the year, since Kung Fu Panda 2 and The Hangover Part II are sequels to enormous $200 million grossers and both serve completely different audiences. The first Panda opened better than the first Hangover — $60 million to $44.9 million — but Hangover had better legs and ended up outgrossing Panda by $62 million. Expect it to win the weekend (and meanwhile, for the long-anticipated Terrence Malick drama The Tree of Life to set per-screen records in limited release).

June 17
Bad Teacher
Green Lantern
Mr. Popper's Penguins

VERDICT: Green Lantern will win this in a walk, but how much gas is left in the superhero tank? It's opening opposite two movies that want a piece of its four-quadrant pie: The Cameron Diaz–Justin Timberlake comedy Bad Teacher is wooing women (who already respond well to Lantern star Ryan Reynolds), while Jim Carrey's lighthearted Mr. Popper's Penguins would be better served opposite a superhero movie that's not quite as upbeat and family-friendly (like the older-skewing Thor, for instance). Penguins may take the biggest hit from sticking to this release date, and the blows just keep coming the next weekend, when Cars 2 is poised to run it over.

August 19
Conan the Barbarian
Fright Night
Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World

VERDICT: Three special-effects franchise reboots coming out the same weekend, with two (Fright Night and Spy Kids 4) battling each other for 3-D screens and Final Destination 5 targeting the same teenage boys the next weekend? Spy Kids is the bigger name (though it's been eight years since the last movie) and should emerge victorious, unless Conan taps into the audience that made The Expendables a big hit the year before. Either way, the forecast isn't good for Fright Night.

October 14
The Big Year
Footloose
The Thing
The Three Musketeers

VERDICT: The reboots and remakes keep coming, as Footloose, The Thing, and The Three Musketeers all battle for supremacy in October. Still, none of the three hopefuls have stars on their side, unlike bird-watching comedy The Big Year, which boasts Steve Martin, Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Jim Parsons, Rashida Jones, and Joel McHale, among others. Assuming it's got a halfway decent trailer, it'll take the weekend; the real mystery is which if these four will underperform. Expect Footloose to air wall-to-wall ads during the debut month of Simon Cowell's American X-Factor, shoring up its base, and for The Thing and Musketeers to tussle for third place.

October 21
Contagion
Paranormal Activity 3

VERDICT: Two horror films with two very different approaches. Contagion's got Steven Soderbergh at the helm with every A-lister in Hollywood dying off during a pandemic — Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, and Marion Cotillard are among the victims — while Paranormal Activity 3 will star nobodies and cost about the same as Contagion's craft services bill. Give it the edge when it comes to weekend box office and profit margins.

November 18
Happy Feet 2
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part One

VERDICT: Consider this a more lopsided version of the Hangover/Kung Fu Panda matchup. Breaking Dawn will be the clear winner here — it's got all the things this franchise has been building to, including a wedding, sex, and a bloodthirsty vampire baby — but it's skewing more adult than the past three Twilight movies, giving Happy Feet 2 (whose 2006 predecessor grossed a little under $200 million) room to breathe.

December 16
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked
Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol
Sherlock Holmes 2

VERDICT: Mission: Impossible is trying to rebound from a disappointing third entry by surrounding Tom Cruise with likable support, including Lost's Josh Holloway and potential franchise usurper Jeremy Renner, but why is it going up against Sherlock? The first Robert Downey Jr. film brought in $62 million in its debut weekend and we'd expect a similar number this time — meanwhile, the Chipmunks series is incredibly consistent, with opening weekends in the high forties and eventual grosses over the $200 million mark. It doesn't matter how little Cruise appears in the ads: If Mission: Impossible stays on this date (instead of moving to summer), it's doomed to third place, and that's gonna hurt.

December 23
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
We Bought a Zoo

VERDICT: And here we have our title bout. They're all very different movies: Fincher's Dragon Tattoo is an R-rated murder mystery, Crowe's Zoo is a romantic comedy with Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson, and Spielberg's Tintin is a cartoon based on a property beloved by overseas audiences but less known here. Spielberg and Crowe will have to duke it out for second place, then, since the R-rating won't stop Fincher's film from becoming the biggest book-to-movie smash since The Da Vinci Code. (Spielberg will get two chances at box-office glory this month: His live-action film War Horse opens just five days later, suggesting that the year's biggest matchup may actually be Spielberg versus himself.)