In an astonishing development, the latest tracking shows Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto edging ahead of Leo Di Caprio’s Blood Diamond and Cameron Diaz’s The Holiday when they compete to open December 8th. This is exactly what Disney, the distributor of Mel’s Mayan epic, was hoping for: that his The Passion of the Christ audience would reward him with their moviegoing loyalty (and not hold his drunken anti-Semitic ranting against him). If even a third of the Passion audience turns out for Apocalpto, it will pay off at the box office. As it is, Gibson’s unusual marketing strategy for the movie — placing himself front and center in a series of TV ads — is meant to appeal directly to his Passion base because the film itself has no stars. Unlike The Holiday, from Sony Pictures, which is a Nancy Meyers-written and directed chick flick also starring Jude Law, Jack Black and Kate Winslet, or the Ed Zwick-directed Blood Diamond, from Warner Bros, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Connolly. George Clooney and Kate Blanchett also open The Good German on December 8th, but the Steven Soderbergh film will be platformed. For December 15th, Will Smith’s The Pursuit of Happyness from Sony has great awareness while Paramount’s Charlotte’s Web is looking good with Moms and girls; both should rake in $20+ mil at the box office. But watch December 22nd when the Fox comedy Night at the Museum, starring Ben Stiller, opens. This should be the blockbuster of the season. “It came on tracking strong,” one guru told me, “and looks like the #1 holiday movie.” It will swamp other pics opening that weekend: The Good Shepherd, starring Matt Damon, and We Are Marshall, starring Matthew McConaughey. MGM’s Rocky Balboa opens a few days earlier, on December 20th, and is tracking well with men, but not with females. Hard to say what Dreamworks/Paramount’s DreamGirls will do at the box office when it opens because it’ll be in a limited run and only widen to 800 prints at first. This weekend, New Line’s The Nativity should score in the high teens (in terms of millions of $$$) to photo finish with holdovers Casino Royale and Happy Feet.