The previous December record-holder was The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which debuted to $34.5 million on a Wednesday in 2003. The Hobbit also opened noticeably higher than The Two Towers ($26.2 million), and grossed twice as much as The Fellowship of the Ring ($18.2 million). With 3D/IMAX premiums and a decade of inflation, though, The Hobbit's initial attendance was substantially lower than that of Return of the King and about on par with The Two Towers.
Because its $13 million midnight opening is over three times higher than any previous December release, it's likely that The Hobbit is more frontloaded than other December hits like I Am Legend and Avatar. The range now appears to be $85 million on the low end and $105 million on the high end, which means no matter what it will break the December opening weekend record (I Am Legend's $77.2 million).
While critics were lukewarm on The Hobbit (65 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), audiences awarded it a strong "A" CinemaScore. This suggests that The Hobbit is in for a long, very healthy run at the box office through the remainder of the Holiday season.
On the heels of seven Golden Globe nominations, Lincoln was tops among holdovers on Friday with an estimated $1.93 million (off a light 24 percent). Through nearly a month in theaters, the Steven Spielberg-directed biopic has earned a very impressive $102.6 million.
Skyfall fell 41 percent to an estimated $1.85 million, which was good for third place on Friday. The 23rd James Bond adventure has grossed $267.2 million, which is nearly $100 million more than predecessor Quantum of Solace.