Weekend Box Office (December 14 - 16, 2012)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Fans of Middle Earth ended their long wait and charged into North American multiplexes powering the new fantasy adventure The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey into the number one spot breaking the December opening weekend record in the process. Audiences around the world made the Peter Jackson film the most popular movie on the planet as no other studio dared to challenge Bilbo Baggins and his gang with any other new releases.

The Hobbit scored $84.6M in ticket sales this weekend, according to final studio figures, accounting for about 60% of the marketplace. Warner Bros. opened the first chapter of this new trilogy in 4,045 total domestic theaters (also a new December record) and averaged a sensational $20,919 per location. The adventure tale was offered in many different viewing formats including 3D, IMAX, and High Frame Rate (HFR) as well as combinations of these formats. 3D was offered in 3,160 of the locations (6,500 total screens) while HFR was in 461 sites and 326 theaters had IMAX. 3D and IMAX screens had higher ticket prices which helped to boost the overall gross. Audiences were evenly split on paying extra for the additional dimension. 2D accounted for 51% of the gross while 49% was from the 3D screens.

A new December opening weekend record was set by Hobbit. The previous high was set five years ago this very weekend when Will Smith's I Am Legend bowed to $77.2M with no help from 3D. Avatar had the biggest December debut for a 3D film with $77M in 2009. Factoring in three years of ticket price increases, Hobbit's opening weekend audience size was roughly the same as Avatar's. Both were near-three-hour effects-driven 3D epics from Oscar-winning directors opening on a mid-December Friday.

The turnout for the new Gandalf flick was extremely front-loaded. Friday kicked off with $37.1M including a stunning $13M from Thursday night post-midnight shows. Saturday tumbled 25% to $27.7M while Sunday dropped 28% to $19.8M. The breakdown over the three-day period was very similar to the debut frame of The Hunger Games from last March which, like Hobbit, had a huge midnight start, did 44% of its weekend gross on Friday and had a 25% drop from Friday-to-Saturday. Both films also earned a solid A grade from CinemaScore. After its front-loaded start, Hunger went on to have strong legs topping the charts for four consecutive weeks. Hobbit has the Christmas and New Year's holidays still to come plus no competing event films are opening soon so its road ahead looks promising.

Males made up 57% of the audience and those over 25 were 58% of the crowd. IMAX venues grossed $10.1M accounting for a solid 12% of the weekend take. This was a brand that fans felt was worth paying extra for. Plus IMAX screenings offered a special preview featuring the first nine minutes of next summer's Star Trek Into Darkness from Paramount. Last December, it was Paramount's Mission: Impossible IMAX release which was coupled with the opening scenes of The Dark Knight Rises from Warner Bros. The studio did not have a breakdown for the HFR sales on Unexpected Journey.

The Hobbit invaded much of the world this weekend and opened to an excellent $138.2M from 56 international markets since its Wednesday launch in initial territories. That amounts to a worldwide opening of $223M with the holidays still to come. Also, major markets like Russia (December 19), Australia (December 26), and China (TBD) are still to open. 3D was more popular outside of North America where the screens accounted for 60% of the gross. Leading the way were the U.K. with $18.3M, Germany with $16.3M, France with $12.7M, and Korea with $8.5M.

Produced with MGM, the new Middle Earth trilogy will continue with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug which bows this same week next year on December 13, 2013, followed by the final chapter The Hobbit: There and Back Again opening the following summer on July 18, 2014. Warner Bros. has slotted the final Hobbit into the key July frame that the studio found enormous success with in past years with its recent Dark Knight and Harry Potter films.

Slipping only 31% and rising into the second place slot was the animated adventure Rise of the Guardians with $7.1M. Paramount has grossed $71.1M to date and is hoping that strength over the coming Christmas holidays will get it into the century club. After securing seven Golden Globe nominations, the most for any film, Disney expanded the run of its historical drama Lincoln which placed third with $7M. Adding 271 locations, the Steven Spielberg hit dipped only 21% in its sixth round upping the cume to $107.7M. On Thursday, the presidential pic became the director's 15th $100M+ domestic grosser and the first for Daniel Day-Lewis who is currently seen as the front-runner to win the Best Actor Oscar.

The James Bond smash Skyfall followed in fourth with $6.6M, down 39%, for a total to date of $271.9M. Agent 007 collected an additional $12.2M overseas boosting the international gross to $678.7M and the global haul to a staggering $951M. It should break the $1 billion mark before the year is up.

Off 35% in its fourth round was the 3D epic Life of Pi with $5.4M giving Fox's Ang Lee film $69.6M to date. Pi earned three Golden Globe nominations including Best Picture - Drama and Best Director. This weekend saw an estimated $11.5M from a limited number of international markets for an overseas total of $129.4M led by China's humongous $84.3M. The worldwide figure stands at $199M. The vampire juggernaut The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 fell 44% to $5.1M pushing the cume to $276.8M. It is currently running $10.5M (4%) ahead of Part 1 from this time last year.

Hit toon Wreck-It Ralph slipped 34% to $3.2M giving Disney $168.7M to date. Close behind with $3.1M was the Gerard Butler flop Playing for Keeps which fell 45% in its second weekend. The FilmDistrict release has banked a puny $10.7M in ten days.

Grossing $2.4M was FilmDistrict stablemate Red Dawn which declined by 43% for a $40.9M cume to date. Rounding out the top ten was Silver Linings Playbook which jumped back onto the list thanks to its scant 3% dip to $2.1M despite having no extra screens added. The Weinstein Co. release scored four big Globe nods including Best Picture - Comedy or Musical and showed that while the awards may not have much prestige or industry respect, they do make an impact on general moviegoers and studio marketing campaigns and can drive extra ticket sales. Total is now $17M from 371 theaters with an expansion planned for Christmas.

The top ten films grossed $126.8M which was up 20% from last year when Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows opened at number one with $39.6M; and up 1% from 2010 when TRON: Legacy debuted in the top spot with $44M.

Compared to projections, The Hobbit opened on target with my $86M forecast.

Get earlier box office updates and analysis by following BoxOfficeGuru.com on Twitter.

Check the UPDATED chart of Golden Globe nominees and grosses. Watch the NEW trailer for Star Trek Into Darkness.

For a NEW review of The Hobbit visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Jack Reacher, The Guilt Trip, Monsters, Inc. 3D, and This is 40 all open.

# Title Dec 14 - 16 Dec 7 - 9 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey $ 84,617,303 4,045 1 $ 20,919 $ 84,617,303 Warner Bros.
2 Rise of the Guardians 7,143,445 10,400,618 -31.3 3,387 4 2,109 71,085,268 Paramount
3 Lincoln 7,033,132 8,916,813 -21.1 2,285 6 3,078 107,687,319 Disney
4 Skyfall 6,555,732 10,780,201 -39.2 2,924 6 2,242 271,921,795 Sony
5 Life of Pi 5,413,066 8,330,764 -35.0 2,548 4 2,124 69,572,472 Fox
6 Twilight: Breaking Dawn Pt. 2 5,136,074 9,156,265 -43.9 3,042 5 1,688 276,826,143 Summit
7 Wreck-It Ralph 3,216,043 4,859,368 -33.8 2,249 7 1,430 168,721,592 Disney
8 Playing for Keeps 3,146,443 5,750,288 -45.3 2,840 2 1,108 10,737,535 FilmDistrict
9 Red Dawn 2,408,882 4,236,105 -43.1 2,250 4 1,071 40,904,305 FilmDistrict
10 Silver Linings Playbook 2,109,274 2,171,662 -2.9 371 5 5,685 16,979,323 Weinstein Co.
11 Flight 1,910,666 3,130,305 -39.0 1,823 7 1,048 89,418,704 Paramount
12 Argo 1,170,175 1,482,345 -21.1 667 10 1,754 104,955,079 Warner Bros.
13 Hitchcock 1,107,659 712,544 55.5 561 4 1,974 3,071,871 Fox Searchlight
14 Anna Karenina 1,022,214 1,544,859 -33.8 409 5 2,499 8,380,517 Focus
15 Killing Them Softly 1,008,127 2,806,901 -64.1 1,427 3 706 14,140,432 Weinstein Co.
16 The Collection 529,158 1,487,655 -64.4 621 3 852 6,520,794 LD
17 Hyde Park on Hudson 292,796 81,362 259.9 36 2 8,133 404,816 Focus
18 Taken 2 288,772 387,227 -25.4 339 11 852 138,132,493 Fox
19 Pitch Perfect 245,680 305,765 -19.7 332 12 740 63,869,423 Universal
20 Talaash 168,828 478,559 -64.7 113 3 1,494 2,706,375 Reliance Ent.
Top 5 $ 110,762,678 $ 47,584,661 132.8
Top 10 126,779,394 68,367,628 85.4
Top 20 134,523,469 77,879,281 72.7
Top 20 vs. 2011 134,523,469 115,504,277 16.5

Last Updated: December 17, 2012 at 4:00PM ET

Watch Gitesh Pandya's weekly box office preview on CNN International airing live each Thursday at 6:40pm ET.