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Box Office: ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ Delivers Biggest December Opening In History

Box Office: 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' Delivers Biggest December Opening In History

Despite being the latest entry in a well-loved Oscar-winning series with a billion-dollar final installment, expectations were tempered for “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” Unlike the previous trilogy, reviews were a bit more mixed this time around, and some fans wondered if a trilogy was really necessary from the comparatively thin source material. The nerdcore and critics were particularly vocal about the film’s 48 fps format (though it was only featured at 461 of the film’s engagements, a fraction of screens). But even with those hurdles, Peter Jackson‘s latest foray into Middle Earth collected $84.8 million, the biggest opening weekend in December history, easily topping the $73 million ‘Return Of The King‘ grabbed in 2004.

Even if this bests the $77 million that “I Am Legend” grossed as the original highest December opening, the caveats lie in the fact that some pundits forecasted a nine figure showing for the first three days of “The Hobbit.” Coming off the heels of a billion-dollar franchise, the higher numbers feel more like the result of eight years of inflation plus 3D-enhanced prices than a vote for this continuation of the series. Even with robust openings, the ‘Lord Of The Rings‘ films registered outstanding legs due to extensive critical support and audience approval. While the picture generated an “A” Cinemascore, that might be due to the diehard audiences reporting with mandatory geek allegiance. With the film thus far being completely ignored by critics and awards guilds, it’s uncertain as to whether the casual audience members will visit the Shire in the film’s second and third weekend after a sharp downturn in business from Friday to Saturday.

‘The Hobbit’ could still comfortably be over $200 million domestic by the time it’s registering sold-out crowds on Christmas, of course. And worldwide, the picture should be even stronger than the last film, with phenomenal international results suggestiing a possible $200 million global tally at the end of Sunday. Warner Bros. is clearly benefitting from a stronger worldwide film economy, but domestically, it does seem as if the ‘Lord Of The Rings’ audience hasn’t necessarily grown all that much in the last eight years, even for a well-loved series that had a massive second life on DVD. It barely affects the bottom line, though: this has no effect on the release of the next two ‘Hobbit’ films, and all three look like they’ll be billion-dollar entries.

Six weekends of release, and “Lincoln” has now crossed $100 million, while remaining the third biggest theatrical option in the nation. Audience response has allowed “Lincoln” to be a massive draw for adults in a year that saw strong receptions for serious studio fare aimed at discerning audiences. In the wake of the film’s strong Golden Globes showing, “Lincoln” had the best audience retention numbers of any wide release in the top ten and could easily play through Christmas to older families getting together for the holidays. Fear the beard, folks.

Very little separates “Lincoln,” “Skyfall” and “Rise Of The Guardians” this week, aside from the fact that one of those films is looked at as an embarrassment to the studio. ‘Guardians’ is barely saving face as the top kiddie attraction this season, having been thrown under the bus by a studio openly admitting the results should have been stronger. A “Monsters Inc.” 3D re-release is slated for next week, but there’s no reason ‘Guardians’ shouldn’t continue to play into the New Year and hit $100 million, small relief for a pricey picture that’s also pulling in poor worldwide numbers. Meanwhile, “Skyfall” — what more can be said? We’re looking at the first billion-dollar beast of a Bond movie. Everything beyond this point is one juicy cherry on top after another.

Life Of Pi” is producing modest domestic numbers, and after a surprising first frame, interest has chilled considerably. The picture doesn’t look like it will make it to $100 million stateside, though it’s easily surpassed that benchmark overseas, with several major territories yet to receive the film. There’s more than enough evidence to suggest “Life Of Pi” could do more than twice its U.S. numbers in other regions. Right behind is “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2,” which has enough juice to pass the first ‘Breaking Dawn’ entry in America, though it has easily become the biggest overall hit in this franchise thanks to international audiences. In other news — five movies later, a lot of people still watch “Twilight.” Insert depressing, condescending snark here.

The rest of the top ten is simply playing out the string. “Playing For Keeps” never had a chance, “Wreck-It Ralph” has nearly bled out all its 3D screens, and “Red Dawn” is about ready to take a knee. Still clinging on to the bottom of the top ten is “Silver Linings Playbook,” which dropped only 4% while retaining it’s 371 theater count. The film’s not-insignificant legs, combined with the increasing awards presence, suggests we could be very close to a slow, solid expansion for the film. The Weinstein Company continue to play it close to the vest with this film, but don’t be surprised if there’s a slight box office breakout on the horizon.

It was a quiet weekend for the arthouse, with “Hyde Park On Hudson” generating a decent $207k in its second weekend, averaging $8k per-location. It was more formidable than “Hitchcock,” which had an expansion into 561 theaters, but generated only slightly under $1.1 million with a feeble per-screen of less than $2k. The strongest indie performer has to be “Rust And Bone,” which averaged $9k in its fourth week of release on only six screens for a solid $56k and a total of $207k. The week’s lone debut was a quiet one for “Any Day Now” at $41k at sixteen locations. Support your local arthouse theater, boys and girls.

1. Peter Jackson’s Innocuous Good-Time ATM Machine (WB) – $90 million
2. Rise Of The Guardians Of Ga’Hoole (DreamWorks) – $7.4 million ($71.4 mil.)
3. Lincoln (Disney) – $7.2 million ($107.9 mil.)
4. Skyfall (Sony) – $7 million ($272.4 mil.)
5. Life Of Pi (Fox) – $5.4 million ($69.6 mil.)
6. The Bla Bla Saga: Bla Bla Part Blergh (Summit) – $5.1 million ($276.8 mil.)
7. Wreck-It Ralph (Disney) – $3.2 million ($168.7 mil.)
8. Playing For Keeps (FilmDistrict) – $3.2 million ($10.8 mil.)
9. Thor Can’t Tell Asians Apart (FilmDistrict) – $2.3 million ($40.8 mil.)
10. Silver Linings Playboy (The Weinstein Company) – $2 million ($17 mil.)

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