With the last-minute brouhaha over The Interview’s play in an estimated 300+ indie engagements,  it would seem that the Christmas Day box office is all about the Sony political comedy and nothing less. While rival studios expressed alarm last week about The Interview’s presence in the market, they’re rather apathetic about its return. Will The Interview cut into other major titles’ showtimes in major markets such as Los Angeles, New York and Dallas? “No, not really. First, people have to figure out that it’s out there,” says one studio chief, while another observed, “The Interview is playing a bunch of little art house and sub-run theaters. If they were in the circuit first run houses it would be a different story.”

the interviewSince The Interview fell off tracking, there’s no barometer for insiders to project what it could actually rake up over four-days. And the film’s additional play on VOD platforms tomorrow throws another monkey wrench into the mix as far making predictions. What is certain for industry B.O. analysts is that the awareness level for the film is 90%+, so it is bound to sell out art houses. Originally, before The Interview was removed from the schedule, many estimated that the Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy could rake in $20M-$25M in over 2,000+ theaters. Observes one studio distribution analyst this morning, “It will be interesting to see if the major theatrical chains come back on board as they risk serious damage to their brands.”

The movie’s official screen count is 331, Sony said today.

Along with The Interview, the major studios are unspooling a melange of six other titles in hopes that moviegoers will shell out and make up for the shortfall at the 2014 box office: Disney’s musical Into The Woods, Universal’s war drama Unbroken, Paramount’s R-rated The Gambler and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr biopic Selma, Weinstein Co.’s Big Eyes and Warner Bros. limited release of Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper.

If there’s a time to make money, it’s now when people are free from holiday distractions between Christmas and New Year’s. December alone can rep 8%-10% of the annual domestic box office. Last December crossed $1B per Rentrak, the first time since 2009’s Avatar propelled the frame to $1.07B. To date this month, movie ticket sales total $416.5M from December 1-21, off 19% from a year ago.

hobbit batte of five armiesWarner Bros’ The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies is expected to keep last weekend’s yule log fire going with a No. 1 four-day hold of $50M, and a potential total cume of $165-170M by Sunday. In its seventh day yesterday, Five Armies flew past the $100M mark with a domestic cume of $107.9M.

Following Five Armies, Disney’s feature adaptation of the 1987 Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine Broadway musical Into The Woods is expected to bring in a four-day take in the mid $20Ms, possibly low $30M from 2,440 hubs. Given the heat that the studio saw this past summer for its Sleeping Beauty spin-off feature Maleficent ($69.4M opening/$241.4M domestic B.O.) and the anticipation they’re noticing for their March 13 into-the-woods-04release, Cinderella, the studio is quite hopeful about Into The Woods’ prospects. Says Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis about the film, “It’s a little bit of The Avengers in its use of popular fairy tale characters.” Into the Woods has been in the works since the early ‘90s, when director Penny Marshall sent shockwaves around town by hosting a reading of the Lowell Ganz-Babaloo Mandel script with such notables as Robin Williams (the baker), Goldie Hawn (his wife), Cher (the witch, Steve Martin (the wolf) among many others. Columbia Pictures committed at first, then backed away, even after Rob Minkoff took over the directorial reigns: Then-studio chief John Calley didn’t want to start his slate with a musical, particularly Sondheim who has an avant-garde touch with the form. Following Rob Marshall’s Oscar best picture and box office success with Chicago, the director met with Sondheim and talks reignited to bring Into The Woods to the big screen.

A scene from UnbrokenWhile Exodus: Gods And Kings didn’t exactly convert the faith-based crowd this month, both Universal’s Unbroken and Paramount’s Selma have resonated with the demo greatly. Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie and based on the Laura Hillenbrand bestselling book about war hero and Olympian Louis Zamperini, is looking to make between $15-18M at 3,120 engagements over four days. Selma, directed by Ava DuVernay, and recounting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Selma, Alabama Civil Rights marches will open in New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta (the leader’s birthplace) on 19, and could conceivably post $30K per theater for four days.

UnbrokenGrace Hill Media, a film marketing firm specializing in the Faith-based, oversaw the Christian outreach for Unbroken. Luke Zamperini, the son of Louis Zamperini, has been a key part of the film’s publicity, appearing on Christian shows like The 700 Club and the Salem Radio network. Unbroken’s PR tour with the Faith-based began in August at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit outside of Chicago, Il., an annual gathering of Christian leaders where Luke Zamperini participated in a Q&A and the film’s trailer was shown. Sermon notes on Unbroken’s themes of suffering and forgiveness have been downloaded frequently by churches on the Unbroken Christian media website. In addition, Faith Driven Consumer, which assesses Christian audience’s buying habits, has given Unbroken a high 4 out of 5 rating. Universal has also had a great response from U.S. war veterans on Unbroken.

Selma movieWith Selma, actor David Oyelowo, who plays the Civil Rights leader, has been rallying big pastors to the film; fielding phone interviews with them and touring large churches such as the Friendship West Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. During the Saturday of Selma’s wide break on Jan. 10, African American and white congregations are buying tickets together across the nation for a special screening of the film.

The Gambler remake WahlbergParamount has demonstrated a strong track record for unspooling thrifty-budget adult fare at this time of year, and taking it to great heights, read True Grit, The Fighter and even November’s Flight. This Christmas the studio has the Mark Wahlberg drama The Gambler, a remake of the 1974 Karel Reisz directed-James Toback scripted film about a literature professor with a dangerous gambling addiction. The Gambler will open in 2,478 with an eye on $10M-12M for the four-day.

Big Eyes WaltzWeinstein Co. has Tim Burton’s Big Eyes at 1,200 runs . The film follows the story about Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), the painter who was responsible for the ’60s craze of cute-eyed kid paintings, but whose charlatan husband Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) took credit. Industry projections see Big Eyes opening at around $4M-5M over Thursday-Sunday.

Lastly, Warner Bros.’ Clint Eastwood film American Sniper about sharp shooter NAVY Seal Chris Kyle will unspool in four theaters in New York, american sniper 2Los Angeles and Dallas. At this point in time, the film is making its Oscar qualifying bow. American Sniper will go wider in 3,200 engagements on January 16. The December limited bows for Eastwood titles in less than 10 runs have varied with 2006’s Letters From Iwo Jima charting $89K off five theaters to Oscar Best Picture winner Million Dollar Baby bowing to $180K in eight venues and Gran Torino to $272K (however the last two titles starred Eastwood).