Guy Ritchie’s second episode in the adventures of the high-kicking Victorian sleuth arrived in first place on an estimated $40m according to Warner Bros.

This was some way behind the Dec 25 2009 debut of Sherlock Holmes, which opened in second place behind Avatar on $62.8m en route to a $209m final tally in North America. Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law and Noomi Rapace star in this latest instalment.

Fox’s Alvin And The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked opened second on $23.5m, which also failed to live up to its predecessor. The second episode, Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, arrived in third place on Dec 23 2009 on $48.9m.

By far the best pound-for-pound sequel of the weekend was Paramount’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol starring Tom Cruise and Jeremy Renner.

The fourth entry in the action franchise opened at number three and took $13m from 425 mostly IMAX sites for a $30,588 per-site average and will expand next week into 3,400 sites. Several dozen IMAX sites played a six-minute trailer of The Dark Knight Rises ahead of its summer 2012 launch.

In a good weekend for Paramount, Young Adult climbed 11 places to number seven after expanding from eight theatres to 986 and adding $3.7m for $4.1m after two weekends.

SPC opened Roman Polanski’s Carnage starring Jodie Foster, John C Reilly, Kate Winslet and Christophe Waltz in five theatres for $85,700 for an impressive $17,140 per-site average.

Turning to other awards contenders:

Fox Searchlight’s The Descendants ranks eleventh and grossed $3.4m from 878 for $28.7m after five, while My Week With Marilyn ranks 16th on $6.1m through TWC after four and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy expanded in the second weekend from four to 16 theatres and added $452,000 through Focus Features for $852,000.

J. Edgar has grossed $35.7m through Warner Bros after six weekends, A Dangerous Method stands at $728,000 from 253 through SPC after four and Margin Call has grossed $5.1m through Roadside Attractions after nine weekends.

Shame expanded by 30 theatres and has grossed $1.2m from 51 through Fox Searchlight after three. The Artist stands at $1.3m from 17 theatres through TWC after four weekends and Take Shelter has grossed $1.6m through SPC after 12 weekends in release.

SPC’s Midnight In Paris has amassed $56.3m after 31 weekends and The Skin I Live In has taken $2.9m after 10. 50/50 is at $34.9m through Summit after 12 weekends.

Next weekend could represent a change in fortune for the recent anaemic box office and sees the arrival of: Paramount’s The Adventures Of Tintin directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by Peter Jackson; David Fincher’s remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo for Sony starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara; and Fox’s Cameron Crowe drama We Bought A Zoo with Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson. Ghost Protocol expands into wide release.

Estimated Top 10 North America Dec 16-18, 2011
Film (Dist) / Est wkd gross / Est total to date

1 (-) Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows (Warner Bros) WBPI $40m

2 (-) Alvin And The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (Fox) Fox Int’l $23.5m –

3 (-) Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (Paramount) PPI $13m $13.6m

4 (1) New Year’s Eve (Warner Bros-New Line) WBPI $7.4m $24.8m

5 (2) The Sitter (Fox) $4.4m $17.7m

6 (3) The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (Summit) Summit Int’l $4.3m $266.4m

7 (18) Young Adult (Paramount) PPI $3.7m $4.1m

8 (6) Hugo (Paramount) PPI/GK Films $3.6m $39.1m

9 (5) Arthur Christmas (Sony) SPRI $3.6m $38.5m

10 (4) The Muppets (Buena Vista) WDSMPI $3.5m $70.9m