Forecast: Will Moviegoers Show Up One Last Time for 'The Hobbit'?

by Ray Subers
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

December 17, 2014

Thursday AM Update: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies earned an estimated $24.46 million on opening day. That includes an estimated $11.2 million from late Tuesday showings.

This is the second-lowest opening day in Peter Jackson's six-movie Middle Earth saga; its ahead of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, but below the rest. That's not a perfect apples-to-apples comparison, though, as the first two Hobbit movies opened on a Friday.

If The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies follows the same pattern as The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, it will earn $88 million by Sunday.

Forecast: Beginning on Wednesday, fans of Peter Jackson's Middle Earth saga will have an opportunity to visit the fantasy world "one last time."

Playing at 3,875 theaters, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies could earn as much as $100 million over its first five days. If it winds up near that level, that will put it on pace to earn well over $250 million total, which would be a solid result for this franchise finale.

Meanwhile, two family titles—Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb and Annie (2014)—should do decent business when they open nationwide on Friday.

The final Hobbit movie is opening almost exactly 13 years after The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, which began a trilogy of movies that earned over $1 billion at the domestic box office and nearly $1.9 billion overseas, while also winning a whopping 17 Academy Awards. Over a decade later, director Peter Jackson has adapted J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, which functions as a prequel to The Lord of the Rings.

In the U.S., at least, the Hobbit movies haven't been received as enthusiastically as the Lord of the Rings movies were. The first Hobbit earned $303 million—less than any of the original movies, despite ticket price inflation and the addition of 3D premiums—while last year's Desolation of Smaug set a new series low with $258.4 million. The comparatively poor reception can be chalked up to a few factors, which have already been discussed ad nauseam (the lower stakes inherent in prequels, the questionable creative choice to split one children's book in to three movies, etc.).

Recognizing that moviegoers may be losing interest at this point, Warner Bros. and the filmmakers made a few key important choices for the Hobbit finale. The movie was originally titled The Hobbit: There and Back Again, which is a nice reference to the book, but isn't particularly compelling from a marketing standpoint. Earlier this year, the movie received a new subtitle—The Battle of the Five Armies—which successfully conveys that this installment will feature the kind of large-scale skirmish that Peter Jackson executed so well in the last two installments of the original trilogy. Subsequent marketing material has also hammered home the notion that this is an intense action movie, not a whimsical adventure.

Marketing has also made clear that this is, in fact, the conclusion to Peter Jackson's Middle Earth saga. The poster includes the tagline "The Final Chapter," while recent commercials have invited moviegoers to experience this world "one last time." That has historically been a good strategy for franchise finales, and usually results in an uptick at the box office.

Still, there are plenty of factors working against The Battle of the Five Armies. The previous two Hobbit movies each received mixed reactions from critics and moviegoers, and there are certainly some people who've sworn off this franchise. That issue is compounded by the fact that the other studios have actually programmed some decent competition this year: in the next eight days, The Hobbit faces three movies directly targeted at families, along with one (Unbroken) that could work with that audience as well.

All of that being said, The Hobbit is already off to a strong start: on Tuesday night, it earned a massive $11.2 million, which is much higher than The Desolation of Smaug's $8.8 million Thursday night number last year. It's unclear exactly what this means for the five-day frame—the last two movies each opened on Friday, so it's tough to make an apples-to-apples comparison. Still, this virtually guarantees that The Battle of the Five Armies opens above The Fellowship of the Ring, which earned $75 million over the same period back in 2001.

Even if The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies underperforms in the U.S., it's still poised to earn a ton of money internationally. It already opened to $122 million overseas this past weekend, and that was without a handful of majors including China, South Korea, Italy and Australia. The last two installments each earned over $700 million total; it's not clear yet if Five Armies will match that, though it is safe to assume that $600 million is a lock.

Continued with a look at 'Night at the Museum' and 'Annie,' along with official predictions >>

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