The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey set a new December opening weekend record, though its debut failed to reach the inflated levels many were anticipating for director Peter Jackson's return to Middle Earth.
At 4,045 locations, The Hobbit earned an estimated $84.78 million this weekend. That's a bit ahead of the previous December record held by 2007's I Am Legend ($77.2 million), and also noticeably up on the three-day start for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King ($73.3 million). With 3D/IMAX premiums and a bit of ticket price inflation, though, The Hobbit had lower initial attendance than both of those titles (it also likely sold fewer tickets initially than The Two Towers).
3D showings accounted for 49 percent of ticket sales, which is about on par with most major releases right now. Warner Bros. isn't currently providing a breakdown for the high-frame-rate (HFR), though a distribution executive there suggested it had the highest per-screen average among the three main formats (2D, 3D, HFR 3D). That may not sound overly convincing, but IMAX is reporting that HFR did $44,000 per-theater compared to $31,000 at regular IMAX 3D locations. Overall, IMAX contributed an estimated $10.1 million (12 percent) this weekend.
It's hard to rag on a new monthly record, but it does feel like this $84.8 million debut is a slight miss for The Hobbit. The Lord of the Rings is one of the most popular movie franchises ever, and adapting the prequel story should have been a box office slam-dunk. Unfortunately, Warner Bros. marketing almost exclusively focused on The Hobbit's connection to Lord of the Rings, and therefore failed to show what's special about this movie. Add in confusion about the trilogy situation (which WB didn't make much of an effort to correct) and some middling reviews (65 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), and many casual moviegoers likely decided to take a "wait-and-see" approach here.
Long-term, though, The Hobbit should be in fine shape. December releases typically have a slow start but hold well through the Holiday season, and that will likely be the case with The Hobbit as well thanks to solid word-of-mouth (it received a strong "A" CinemaScore from audiences this weekend). Ultimately, $300 million at the domestic box office is within reach, though it's entirely possible the movie falls short of The Fellowship of the Ring's $315.5 million total (the lowest-grossing of the three Lord of the Rings movies).
The Hobbit's audience skewed male (57 percent) and a bit older (58 percent over 25). The "A" CinemaScore improved to an "A+" with moviegoers under 18 years old, suggesting this will be a great choice for families throughout the next few weeks.
While The Hobbit accounted for over half of business, there were still other movies drawing attention this weekend. DreamWorks Animation's Christmas movie Rise of the Guardians took second place again, dipping just 29 percent to an estimated $7.4 million. While it's tie-in with the holiday should help it maintain some momentum, it's going to have a tough time holding on to its screens with so many new releases coming out in the next nine days; as a result, there's no chance it makes it from its current $71.4 million to the coveted $100 million level.
Thanks in part to its seven Golden Globe nominations, Lincoln eased just 19 percent to an estimated $7.2 million this weekend. It's now the highest-grossing of the major Academy Award contenders with $107.9 million (ahead of Argo's $104.9 million).
Even with direct competition from The Hobbit, Skyfall still hung on well and only dropped 35 percent to an estimated $7 million. It's now earned $272.4 million, and a total north of $290 million seems like a done deal.
Life of Pi rounded out the Top Five for the fourth weekend in a row; the Ang Lee-directed adaptation dipped 35 percent to an estimated $5.4 million. To date, the movie has grossed $69.6 million.
In 10th place, Silver Linings Playbook was off just 4 percent to $2.1 million. The movie was once again in 371 locations, which is the level that it's been at for the past four weekends. The acclaimed David O. Russell romantic comedy has grossed just under $17 million; with the upcoming Christmas traffic jam at theaters, it's likely that The Weinstein Company waits until around Oscar nominations (Jan. 10) and Jennifer Lawrence's Saturday Night Live hosting gig (Jan. 19) to push the movie in to nationwide release.