“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” is kicking off its farewell tour with a bang. The finale in Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth film trilogy brought in $90.6 million over its five-day North American opening and seized the No. 1 spot at the box office.
The fantasy epic from New Line and MGM marched past pre-release projections to blow away the weekend’s other two wide opening movies, “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” and the Sony musical “Annie.” The comedy sequel was the runner-up with $17.3 million, under the expectations of analysts and Fox. In third was “Annie,” writer-director Will Gluck’s big-screen version of the hit Broadway musical, which finished with an estimated $16.3 million over the three days for Sony.
The overall box office was down roughly four percent from the same weekend last year, when the “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” was No. 1 with $31 million in its second week. That’s not great, but it’s not terrible either, given the recent box office downturn and the potential for the Sony hackers’ terror threats over “The Interview” to keep moviegoers at home.
The first two films in Jackson’s blockbuster “Hobbit” series, a prequel to his “Lord of the Rings” franchise, took in $1.9 billion globally for Warner Bros. The $56.2 million three-day total for “Five Armies” was under the $73.6 million debut of “The Desolation of Smaug” last December and the $84 million of 2013’s “An Unexpected Journey.”
The five-day total for “Five Armies” was better than the $86 million that “Smaug” did over the same time, and no one at distributor Warner Bros. was disappointed, given the potential for franchise fatigue, the recent box office skid and potential fallout from “The Interview” saga. Its performance overseas, where it has taken in more than $250 million, is another positive.
The Warner Bros. marketing team hammered home the film’s “One Last Time” catch phrase and it worked.
“They nailed it,” Jeff Goldstein, executive v.p. for domestic distribution told TheWrap. “We played strongly in big, middle-sized and smaller cities. Moviegoers wanted to say good-bye and they turned out in force. They wanted to see it in the best way they could, too,” he said, referring to its strength on premium formats.
“Five Armies” played in 3,875 theaters and got a major boost from 360 IMAX locations, which brought in $13.6 million. That’s 15 percent of the five-day total, the most ever for a “Hobbit” or “Rings” movie and a December record for IMAX. Premium Large Format screens delivered $7.2 million, or eight percent of the take. The 3D screenings were popular too, accounting for 49 percent of the grosses.
The solid showing by “Annie” was in line with projections, and had to be a bright spot for Sony, which has been beleaguered by fallout from “The Interview.”
To do it, the $65 million musical starring Quvenzhané Wallis and Jamie Foxx had to overcome a pre-release leak of a hacked copy of the film and tough reviews from the critics.
“We always believed in this movie, and we moved its release up a week because we were confident that word of mouth would be good,” Sony distribution chief Rory Bruer told The Wrap.
He was right about the audiences, which were 76 percent families, liking it. They gave “Annie,” which co-stars Cameron Diaz, Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale, an “A-” CinemaScore. That’s way better than the critics, who have it a 28 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes.
It’s hard to quantify the impact of the online posting of the hacked copy, but it seemed negligible, even though “Annie” was download more than 316,000 times, according to piracy tracker Excipio.
Meanwhile, Fox had hoped for more from “Secret of the Tomb,” which stars Ben Stiller and the late Robin Williams and arrived in theaters five years after the second sequel.
That one opened to $54 million in May of 2009 and the original debuted with $30 million in December of 2006. “Secret of the Tomb” didn’t come near those numbers, and it has a hefty $127 million production budget.
“We think this will be fine over the next couple of weeks when the holiday season really kicks in,” said Chris Aronson, who heads distribution at Fox. “The audience that did show up loved it and that word is going to get out.” Most movies often open lower than usual during the holiday season, but often play more strongly in their second and third weeks.
Last week’s No. 1 movie, “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” edged “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” for fourth. Fox’s Ridley Scott Biblical epic took in $7.8 million, a steep 68 percent drop from its opening week. Lionsgate’s Jennifer Lawrence sci-fi tale took in $7.7 million and is approaching the $300 million mark domestically in its fifth week.