'A Christmas Carol,' a tale of greed and redemption, will blow away the competition at the box office this weekend and Bernie Madoff can only wish he could be there and learn. There are no first-run theaters in his hoosegow.

The latest telling of Charles Dickens' classic novella is one of four movies opening nationally today. But the other three -- the alien abduction thriller 'The Fourth Kind,' the 'Twilight Zone'-inspired fantasy 'The Box,' and the military intelligence spoof 'The Men Who Stare at Goats' -- will do well to sell as many tickets among them as 'A Christmas Carol' by itself.

Associating Ebenezer Scrooge with Bernie Madoff is unfair, of course. Scrooge never screwed anybody. He's just a rich old miser whose early failings have left him bitter and uncaring, nothing that a visit from three ghosts and a meeting with a lame child can't overcome. Its theme of greed and redemption and its moral of compassion for the underprivileged made the story an instant popular success in Dickens' day and makes it just as relevant in the current recession. Directed by Bob Zemeckis, using the same motion capture animation process he used on his earlier holiday smash 'The Polar Express,' 'Disney's A Christmas Carol' cost upwards of $150 million to make and will earn that back and a lot more.
Unlike your ordinary blockbuster, early Christmas movies tend to play well through the holiday itself. Add the appeal of Jim Carrey, in the multiple roles of Scrooge and the three ghosts, and the appeal to parents of the Disney label and you have a movie for every demographic.

Opening domestically in more than 3,500 theaters -- in flat, 3D and IMAX 3D formats -- the movie should gross more than $40 million this weekend and top $200 million by the end of the year.

'The Fourth Kind,' a PG-13 film targeted for teenage boys, should be the second-best performer of the new releases, but it has a problem. 'Paranormal Activity,' the year's surprise hit, is still doing well and its haunted-house story appeals to the same folks excited by UFOs and alien abductions. And though 'The Fourth Kind' cost many millions more to make than 'Paranormal''s paltry $11,000, its claim of being based on a true story give it no more credibility than 'Paranormal's' 'Blair Witch' approach.

Those two films could scare up about the same amount of ticket sales, somewhere around $10 million. If 'Paranormal' does a little better than that, its gross could pass the magic $100 million mark.

The other newcomers are aimed at older audiences and despite appealing A-list casts will have a tough time filling seats.

George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor and Kevin Spacey star in 'The Men Who Stare at Goats,' a farce inspired by an actual government study to learn if soldiers could be taught to kill enemies by staring them to death. If looks could kill, in other words. Look for a box office take of between $8 million and $10 million.

'The Box' stars Cameron Diaz, James Marsden and Frank Langella in a creepy fantasy about a struggling couple who are given an opportunity make an easy $1 million. All they have to do is push a button. The catch: someone they don't know will die the moment they do. 'The Box' should do about $7 million.

Finally, there's still that Michael Jackson rehearsal film 'This is It' out there. The movie is now getting repeat business from Jackson fans, but not enough to promise it a long life in theaters. It could add as much as $11 million to its total. I'll bet Bernie Madoff wishes he could see it, too.



Prep for the weekend with trailers, clips and other goodies on Moviefone:
'A Christmas Carol' trailers & Clips | Jim Carrey's Best | Showtimes & Tickets
'Goats' trailers & clips | Clooney's Best & Worst | Showtimes & Tickets
'The Box' trailer | Showtimes & tickets
'Fourth Kind' Trailer | Showtimes & Tickets