Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit Sets Weekend Record with $84.7 Million Bow

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Warner Bros. and Peter Jackson’s return to Middle-earth with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey set a December opening weekend record at the North American box office in its debut. The film earned more than double the remainder of the top ten films combined in its first three days of release, while also commanding the global box office in the process. Despite the arrival of Bilbo Baggins and his pals, the other films in the top ten also held up well. Overall, the top ten was not only up a massive 87% over last weekend’s totals, but also a solid 21% over the top ten one year ago at this time.

It’s been nine years since Return of the King arrived to earn a huge $378 million during the Christmas season en route to a one billion dollar global haul. Suffice to say that it was only a matter of time before someone tackled J.R.R. Tolkien’s first novel in the Middle-earth saga, The Hobbit. Guillermo Del Toro eventually was chosen as director for the new movie, but then-producer Peter Jackson stepped in to direct after del Toro left to pursue other projects when production stalled due to the bankruptcy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer.

After the decade-long journey to bring the new series to the big screen, the results paid off handsomely. Bilbo, Gandalf and a gaggle of Dwarves began their three-year cinematic journey on 4,045 screens this weekend to earn a spectacular $84.7 million despite mixed reviews. The gross was the result of not only a super-wide screen count but also the fact that many of those screens were 1) 3D equipped theaters 2) IMAX theaters and 3) 3D theaters projecting the movie at 48fps (frames per second) as opposed to the normal 24fps. All three charge a higher price than regular screens (the 48fps presentation went for $18 a pop here in the Boston area). The opening smashed the previous December record held by 2007′s I Am Legend with $77 million.

The mixed notices for Journey certainly won’t hurt the new film’s box office performance this holiday season. With school vacation breaks coming up over the next week or so followed by the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, The Hobbit should have no problem whatsoever in matching and even surpassing the $300 million mark domestically and possibly the $1 billion mark worldwide after a great $57 million start overseas.

Still holding its holiday ground in second place was Dreamworks’ 3D animated feature Rise of the Guardians, earning an estimated $7.4 million to bring its total to $71.2 million. In third place this weekend was another Dreamworks feature, the sure-to-be Oscar nominated drama Lincoln. The Steven Spielberg production added 271 theaters and saw its grosses ease only 18% from last weekend. Now on 2,285 screens, Lincoln earned another $7.2 million to bring its six-week total to $107 million.

After climbing back up to the number one spot last weekend, the Sony smash Skyfall fell back to fourth place to an estimated $7 million on 2,924 screens. After six weeks, 007 and M have grossed a spectacular $272 million in North America alone and another $678 million from foreign markets to bring its overall total to an unreal $951 million. With China being the last major market for 007 to debut in, the biggest hit in Sony Pictures’ history will sprint past the billion dollar mark without breaking a sweat.

Rounding out the top five was Fox’s 3D Ang Lee hit Life of Pi. The drama fell 35% to earn an estimated $5.4 million on 2,548 screens to bring its domestic total to $69.5 million.

The remainder of the top ten was as follows:

6. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (Summit) $5.1 million (-43% from last weekend); $276 million to date

7. Wreck-It Ralph (Buena Vista) $3.276 million (-32.6%) $167 million

8. Playing For Keeps (FilmDistrict) $3.2 million (-43%) $10.8 million

9. Red Dawn (2012) $2.4 million (-43%) $40.9 million

10. Silver Linings Playbook (Weinstein) $2 million (-4%) $17 million

On Wednesday, The Guilt Trip and the 3D reissue of Monsters Inc. debut nationwide, while Zero Dark Thirty starts its one-month limited run on five screens (the movie opens in wide release on January 11th). Friday sees the debuts of Jack Reacher, This is 40 and Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away arrive. All could finish lower than The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey if its “A” CinemaScore rating leads to referral business.

- Shawn Fitzgerald

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