Weekend Report: 'Smaug' Sets Fire to Box Office, Misses First 'Hobbit's Mark
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug had a mighty debut this weekend, though it still fell noticeably short of its predecessor. Meanwhile, A Madea Christmas set a new low among Tyler Perry's Madea movies.

Smaug banked $73.65 million, which ranks fourth all-time in the month of December. Unfortunately, it's off 13 percent from last year's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which set the December record with $84.6 million. It's also lower than I Am Legend ($77.2 million) and Avatar ($77 million).

When An Unexpected Journey opened last year, it was benefiting from nine years of pent-up demand for a follow-up to The Lord of the Rings, which is one of the most widely loved franchises ever. Audiences weren't as enamored with An Unexpected Journey, though, which made a subsequent drop for Smaug seem inevitable. The fact that Smaug was able to retain such a large percentage of the audience is a tribute to the loyalty of the fanbase, and also to a strong marketing effort that made Smaug look much more exciting than its predecessor.

Aside from the tepid response to the first movie, Smaug was also held back by additional competition from holdovers (Frozen, Catching Fire), another new release (A Madea Christmas) and the fact that the highly-anticipated Anchorman 2 arrives in a few days. Finally, nasty snowstorms in the northeast also likely had a minor effect, though bad weather tends to be an overrated factor. For example, even though the storms mainly hit on Saturday, Smaug's 22 percent Friday-to-Saturday drop was an improvement over its predecessor's 25 percent drop.

The movie's audience was 60 percent male and 64 percent over 25 years of age. In comparison, An Unexpected Journey was 57 percent male and 58 percent over 25. 3D showings accounted for 49 percent of the gross, which is identical to the first movie. That 3D figure is inclusive of IMAX, which brought in $9.2 million (12.5 percent).

While most reviews suggest Smaug is a step up from An Unexpected Journey, audiences didn't necessarily agree: they awarded the movie an "A-" CinemaScore, which is off from the first movie's "A" score.

If Smaug follows An Unexpected Journey's pattern from here, it will ultimately wind up with over $260 million.

In second place, Frozen eased 29 percent to $22.6 million. To date, it's earned $164.8 million, and it remains on pace for a final total north of $250 million.

At 2,194 locations, Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas opened to $16 million. That's the third-lowest start yet for a Perry movie, and it's the lowest ever for one that features Madea. In comparison, Madea's Witness Protection opened to $25.4 million last June. It is important to remember, though, that December releases have smaller openings followed by above-average holds, and A Madea Christmas should still be able to make it past $50 million.

The movie's audience was 67 percent female and 63 percent over the age of 25. They gave it an "A-" CinemaScore, which is a fairly typical score for a Perry movie.

In fourth place, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire fell 48 percent to $13.7 million. The blockbuster sequel has so far earned $357.5 million, and could still make it past $400 million by the end of its run.

After disappointing last weekend, Out of the Furnace plummeted 54 percent to $2.4 million. Through 10 days, the movie has grossed a meager $9.6 million.

Ahead of its nationwide debut on Dec. 20th, David O. Russell's American Hustle opened at six locations in New York and Los Angeles and earned a fantastic $740,455. That translates to a $123,409 per-theater average, which ranks 14th all-time (fourth for a live-action movie).

The movie's audience was split evenly between those over and under 35 years of age, and it was also almost even between men (49 percent) and women (51 percent). With great reviews and plenty of awards attention—not to mention the appeal of the cast and director—American Hustle is well-positioned for a solid debut at 2,500 locations next weekend.

Saving Mr. Banks didn't fare quite as well as American Hustle: the true Hollywood story earned $413,373 from 15 theaters for a $27,558 per-theater average. It's not really the kind of movie that's aimed at arthouse audiences, though, and it should play better when it expands in to nationwide release on Friday.

Around-the-World Roundup

Coinciding with its domestic debut, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug opened in 49 overseas markets and earned a massive $135.5 million. According to Warner Bros., it was up three percent on An Unexpected Journey across the same bucket of territories.

The sequel's top market was Germany, where it brought in $18.1 million. It was also strong in the U.K. ($15.6 million), France ($14.6 million), South Korea ($7.2 million), Spain ($7.1 million), Mexico ($5.9 million), Italy ($5.2 million) and Brazil ($5 million).

Desolation of Smaug expands in to Russia on Wednesday, and then reaches Australia on Dec. 26th. It expands in to Japan in February, and will also likely open in China sometime in the first quarter of 2014. The first Hobbit earned $714 million overseas—if Smaug falls short of that, it probably won't be by much.

Playing in 25 markets, Frozen added an estimated $31.5 million. Its only major new market was Russia, where it took first place with a great $11.1 million. Frozen has so far earned $101.6 million, and reaches Italy and Mexico next weekend.

Catching Fire fell over 50 percent to $19.5 million, which brings its foreign total to $372.9 million. This week it passed the worldwide total of the first Hunger Games ($691 million), and it now ranks fifth in 2013 with $730 million. Catching Fire expands in to its final market (Japan) at the end of the month, and remains on page for a worldwide total close between $825 million and $850 million.

Gravity opened to $3.7 million in Japan, which is the blockbuster's final major market. To date, it has earned $389.4 million overseas, and should pass $400 million around Christmas.

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'Smaug' Poised to Open Lower Than First 'Hobbit'

Last Weekend

'Frozen' Beats 'Fire,' 'Furnace' Melts

This Weekend in Past Years:

• 2012 - 'Hobbit' Takes December Record, Misses $100 Million

• 2011 - Disappointed Debuts From 'Sherlock,' 'Alvin' Sequels

• 2010 - 'Tron' Recycles the Power

• 2009 - 'Avatar' Soars in Debut

• 2008 - 'The Day the Earth' Stalls

• 2007 - 'Legend,' 'Chipmunk' Enliven Box Office

• 2006 - 'Pursuit' Overtakes 'Eragon,' 'Web'

• 2005 - 'King Kong' Mighty But No Monster

Related Charts

Weekend Box Office Results

• Franchises: 'Lord of the Rings' Openings

• All Time: December Openings