The first of three Hobbit films earned a big $13 million from midnight showings Thursday night from 3,100 screens, many of them in IMAX, 3D or both. That squashes the previous midnight record in the month of December previously held by Avatar with $3.5 million despite being dwarfed by many of the big summer or November blockbusters that attracted $20 or $30 million from their midnight debuts.
The Hobbit is currently tracking to complete its opening weekend in the neighborhood of $90 million. That would surpass the December opening weekend record held by I Am Legend with $77.2 million. In fact, it would take a substantial weekend decline for The Hobbit not to break the record, especially with the 3D and IMAX surcharges.
For comparison, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Jackson's first foray into Middle-earth, opened to $47.2 million back in December 2001. The subsequent films in that series opened to $62 million and $72.6 million, respectively. After this weekend, The Hobbit will be the biggest opener of all the Middle-earth films.
Whether The Hobbit will show the legs of its predecessors remains to be seen. Its Rotten Tomatoes reviews rating is currently only 66 percent fresh. All three of the Lord of the Rings films have Rotten Tomatoes ratings above 92 percent. Because The Hobbit book was only 300 pages, aimed at kids and broken into three films, whereas The Lord of the Rings stretched three times as many pages, it may not resonate as well with adults and generate second, third and fourth theatrical viewings.
Stop back tomorrow for a better read on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey's weekend projections when we report the Friday studio estimates.