Even though it did hold on to the top spot, though, The Hobbit's performance was underwhelming. The Peter Jackson-directed Lord of the Rings prequel plummeted 57 percent to an estimated $36.7 million for a new total of $149.9 million. That 10-day gross is noticeably lower than that of The Return of the King ($190.8 million) and The Two Towers ($168.1 million), which is disappointing when considering ticket price inflation and 3D/IMAX premiums.
That steep 57 percent drop also suggests The Hobbit is going to be more front-loaded than most movies at this time of year. I Am Legend had an identical decline on the same Dec. 21-23 weekend in 2007, and if The Hobbit continues to perform similarly it will wind up with just $280 million at the domestic box office (lower than any of the Lord of the Rings movies).
Jack Reacher took second place with an estimated $15.6 million from 3,532 locations. That's around half of what star Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol did in its nationwide debut last year, and was also lower than Valkyrie's $21 million opening weekend. Both of those were timed a bit better around Christmas, though, and ultimately Reacher's performance is fine for the weekend immediately before the holiday. With its "A-" CinemaScore and some solid word-of-mouth, Reacher should play well through the next few weeks and could definitely wind up near Valkyrie's $83 million total. Jack Reacher's audience was 60 percent male, and 76 percent were 25 years of age or older.
In third place, This Is 40 debuted to an estimated $12.03 million at 2,912 theaters. That's a fraction of Knocked Up's $30.7 million debut, though of course the time of year had a negative impact on This is 40's initial figures. Audiences aren't really loving the movie ("B-" CinemaScore matches lukewarm anecdotal feedback), though a final gross well over writer-director Judd Apatow's last movie Funny People ($51.9 million) is likely given the performance of past pre-Christmas releases. The audience leaned female (57 percent), and an age breakdown isn't available.
Thanks to its holiday tie-in, families chose the six-week-old Rise of the Guardians over Monsters, Inc. 3D this weekend; the DreamWorks Animation flick eased 17 percent to an estimated $5.9 million. Guardians has now earned $79.7 million total, and is on pace to close somewhere between $90 and $100 million.
Lincoln rounded out the Top Five with $5.6 million, which is off a light 20 percent from last weekend. To date, Steven Spielberg's acclaimed biopic of the 16th president has grossed a very impressive $116.8 million.
After opening slow on Wednesday, The Guilt Trip continued to disappoint with just $5.4 million for the weekend ($7.4 million total). That's the worst debut ever for a Seth Rogen nationwide release, though he wasn't even the main draw—the audience skewed female (60 percent) and older (82 percent were 25 years of age or older), suggesting those that did show up are fans of Barbra Streisand. Ultimately, The Guilt Trip is going to be an also-ran this season, and would probably have been better off debuting some other time of year (like Mother's Day).
Monsters, Inc. 3D was a bit of a disaster this weekend as well. The movie grossed just $5.04 million from 2,618 locations, which brings its five-day total to $6.53 million. That's less than half the debut of any of Disney's other 3D re-releases, and that five-day gross is less than what The Lion King 3D made in its opening day last year ($8.9 million).
It's a bit premature to declare that Disney's 3D re-releases are dead, but they are clearly on life support: families are catching on to the fact that it doesn't make sense to pay 3D ticket prices to see a movie that they can watch on DVD or Blu-ray in the comfort of their own home.
The weekend's final new nationwide release, Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away, opened in 11th place with an estimated $2.1 million. The 3D concert movie only had two showtimes per day at each of its 840 locations, which means each show had fairly high attendance in comparison to the other new releases. The audience was 60 percent female, and they awarded the movie a very good "A-" CinemaScore.
Thanks to strong reviews and plenty of torture-related controversy, Zero Dark Thirty debuted to a fantastic $410,000 from just five locations this weekend ($639,000 through five days). The Kathryn Bigelow-directed CIA thriller will remain at these five theaters in New York and Los Angeles at least through Jan. 3 before expanding to over 2,500 theaters on Jan. 11 (the day after Oscar nominations).
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This Weekend's Forecast:
• Forecast: Eight Nationwide Releases Crowd Theaters This Christmas
This Weekend in Past Years:
• 2011 - 'M:I-4' Sizzles Over Solid Christmas Weekend
• 2010 - 'Fockers' Fester, 'Grit' Has Gumption
• 2009 - Christmas Booms with 'Avatar,' 'Sherlock,' 'Alvin'
• 2008 - 'Marley' Retrieves Box Office Luster Over Christmas
• 2007 - 'National Treasure' Leads Christmas Rush
• 2005 - 'King Kong' Clings to Christmas Top Spot Over 'Chronicles'
• Weekend Box Office Results
• All-Time Domestic