John Cusack in 2012Superstition is piled upon superstition as Roland Emmerich's apocalypse thriller '2012' begins playing on more than 3,000 screens on Friday the 13th. Don't cross paths with a black cat on your way to the theater.

'2012' is a monster-budgeted special effects spectacular exploiting the myth of the Mayan Doomsday Prophecy, some ancient hoohoo that pegs the end of the world as occurring Dec. 21 two years hence. Enough people believe this riff that real-world scientists are actually bothering to debunk it. John Cusack in 2012Superstition is piled upon superstition as Roland Emmerich's apocalypse thriller '2012' begins playing on more than 3,000 screens on Friday the 13th. Don't cross paths with a black cat on your way to the theater.

'2012' is a monster-budgeted special effects spectacular exploiting the myth of the Mayan Doomsday Prophecy, some ancient hoohoo that pegs the end of the world as occurring Dec. 21 two years hence. Enough people believe this riff that real-world scientists are actually bothering to debunk it.

In the meantime, the movie figures to rake in a ton of first-weekend coin. Emmerich's first end-of-world thriller, 'Independence Day,' opened on July 4 weekend in 1996 and grossed $50.2 million over its first three days. Word of mouth about its astounding images of iconic buildings being destroyed kept it going all the way to a $306.2 million domestic gross.

Emmerich's 'The Day After Tomorrow,' which imagined a world frozen by the overnight arrival of a new Ice Age, was released at the end of May in 2004 and had an opening weekend total of a whopping $85.8 million. True, those were both summer releases, when the coveted male teenage audience is primed for action, and '2012' is hitting screens in the late fall. But one year ago, the latest James Bond movie, 'Quantum of Solace,' opened on this weekend and sold $67.5 million worth of tickets in three days.

Given the wholesale, wondrously believable destruction of earth promised in the '2012' trailers, and some fairly enthusiastic early reviews, I'd look for the movie to gross more than $60 million this weekend.

That would just about double the opening total for 'Disney's A Christmas Carol,' which made a little more than $30 million in leading the box office last weekend. Bob Zemeckis' motion-capture version of Dickens' classic seems to be on the same box office trajectory as his 2004 motion-capture holiday hit 'The Polar Express.' That film had a similar opening and a second weekend take of about $17 million. 'Christmas Carol' should do about the same.

The other new wide release this weekend is 'Pirate Radio,' a period comedy about 1960s pop radio stations set up on ships in the North Sea. Critical buzz is good on the film, but it's opening in only 900 theaters and with its targeted audience skewing toward nostalgic AARP members, it won't break any box office records. I look for it to do about $3,000 per theater, or $2.7 million.

Of greater interest is the expansion from 18 to more than 150 theaters of Lee Daniels' 'Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire.' The low-budget drama about an incestuously abused, twice-pregnant Harlem teenager had a phenomenal opening a week ago, taking in an average of $100,000 from each of 18 theaters in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta. More theaters are being added to those markets, plus new runs in San Francisco, Philadelphia, Houston, Washington and Dallas.

Exit polls taken during its first weekend showed that about half of 'Precious' audience was African-American and 60% women. They gave the film an average grade of A, on a scale of F to A+. Distributor Lionsgate intends to put 'Precious' into wide national release a week from today. With more theaters playing it in the first four markets, its per-theater average will inevitably drop, but not by much, and it ought to do soaring business in the new markets as well. I see it doing $6 milion to $7 million this weekend.

Analysts will also be keeping a close eye on third weekend business for the Michael Jackson documentary 'This is It.' Repeat business by Jackson fans has been holding its theaters for it, but it's bound to drop another 40-50% in its third weekend, which would mean ticket sales of about $8 million to $9 million over the next three days.

It will also be a telling weekend for 'The Men Who Stare at Goats,' a star-studded military farce that enjoyed a $13.3 million opening last week. A 50% drop in this case, which would be expected, would put its second weekend haul at around $7 million.

'Paranormal Activity,' which is perhaps the most profitable (cost-to-ticket sales) movie of all time, is quieting down at theaters, but it should gross more than $5 million this weekend and pass the mini-blockbuster marker of $100 million in total sales. 'The Fourth Kind,' also billed as a quasi-documentary thriller, should be sunk by bad reviews and an equally bad audience grade.

Among the handful of limited releases is Wes Anderson's 'Fantastic Mr. Fox,' an animated version of Roald Dahl's children's novel, featuring the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Bill Murray. It opens in four theaters in New York and Los Angeles.

By Sunday night, the weekend chart should look something like this:

1. '2012.' $60 million-plus.
2. 'Disney's A Christmas Carol.' $17 million.
3. 'This is It.' $8 mlllion.
4. 'The Men Who Stare at Goats.' $7 million-plus.
5. 'Precious.' $6 million.