Peter Jackson‘s “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” ruled the U.S. box office this weekend, rolling up $73.6 million and dethroning Disney’s kids movie “Frozen.”
It didn’t match last year’s December record $85 million debut of the first film in the trilogy, “Unexpected Journey, but “Smaug” faced much tougher competition and is now in some impressive company. “I am Legend” ($77.2 million) and “Avatar” ($77 million) are the only movies to open bigger in December.
Disney Animation’s “Frozen” held strongly and skated to $22.3 million, raising its domestic total after three weeks of wide release to $165 million. It easily beat out “Tyler Perry‘s a Madea Christmas,” which brought in $16.1 million, for third.
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” was next with $13.2 million, and is now up to $357 million domestically. The Jennifer Lawrence sequel’s worldwide grosses hit $739 million, passing the $691 million total of “The Hunger Games.”
Meanwhile, Sony’s Oscar frontrunner “American Hustle” rolled out with $690,000 from six theaters for a $115,000 per-theater average, the year’s biggest limited debut (though “Frozen” took in $243,000 from a special stage show).
“The Desolation of Smaug” would have done even better were it not for a major storm that hit much of the East Coast on Saturday, keeping many potential moviegoers at home.
“We probably lost a couple of million there,” said distribution chief Dan Fellman of Warner Bros., which produced the film along with New Line and MGM. “But we hung in there and obviously we’re very pleased with this showing. It’s looking even stronger internationally, so we think we’ve got another billion-dollar movie.”
“An Unexpected Journey” brought in $1.07 billion last year, with more than $700 million of that coming from abroad where the sequel is expected to be even stronger. It opened at No. 1 in 49 foreign markets this weekend and brought in $131.2 million.
Domestically, “Smaug” benefited greatly from ticket premiums from 3D, along with high-frame-rate and large-format screenings. Forty-nine percent of the haul came from 3D, and all of the top 10 grossing theaters featured Imax, which accounted for $9 million. Premium large format screens accounted for 21 percent of the total gross, with eight percent generated by PLF auditoriums, led by Cinemark XD, and Imax’s 13 percent.
Men accounted for 60 percent of the audience at the 3,903 theaters (“Unexpected Journey” was on more than 4,000), and 64 percent were over the age of 25. They gave it an “A-” CinemaScore.
The storyline continues the events of “An Unexpected Journey,” in which the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) travels with the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and 13 dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) to combat the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch).
Jackson produces and wrote the screenplay with his longtime collaborators and “Lord of the Rings” co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro, originally chosen to direct the “Hobbit” films.
Warner Bros., New Line and MGM are hoping audiences will make “The Hobbit’ a holiday tradition. The third film, “There and Back Again,” is scheduled to be released in this same slot next year.
It wasn’t exactly a lump of coal in their stocking, but Tyler and Lionsgate – who have released 16 movies together – had hoped for a better start for “A Madea Christmas.” Perry’s previous Madea movies have on average opened to $28 million, and his last one, 2012’s “Madea’s Witness Protection,” opened to $25 million.
The audience, which broke down 67 percent female and was 63 percent over the age of 25, gave it an “A-” CinemaScore. That, and the film’s holiday theme, offers hope that it can perform steadily for the next few weeks.
“Thor: The Dark World” ($2.7 million), Relativity’s Christian Bale drama “Out of the Furnace” ($2.3 million) and DreamWorks’ Vince Vaughn comedy “Delivery Man” ($2 million) followed. Disney’s Marvel superhero sequel is about to cross $200 million domestically and has taken in $620 million worldwide since opening six weeks ago.
Oscar hopefuls “Philomena” and “The Book Thief” were next, with Open Road Film’s action thriller “Homefront” rounding out the top ten.
“Hours,” one of the final films of the late Paul Walker, debuted softly on 16 screens with about $51,000. Distributor Pantelion has said it will donate portions of the film’s box office to the actor’s charity Reach Out Worldwide. “Hours” was completed months before the Nov. 30 auto crash that took Walker’s life.