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"The Hobbit"
© Warner Bros. / 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey'
'The Hobbit' tops box office with record opening

By Todd Cunningham

"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" launched Peter Jackson's new trilogy with the biggest December box-office opening ever, taking in $85 million in three days.

Jackson's prequel to the blockbuster "Lord of the Rings" series, the first of three installments, shattered the record for biggest December debut set in 2007 by "I Am Legend" with $77.2 million. The overall box office was the highest ever for a December weekend at $134 million, and was up 14 percent over the comparable weekend last year.

Find: Which actor feared his height would cost him 'Hobbit' role?

Distributor Warner Bros. also rolled out "The Hobbit" on 18,200 screens internationally and it took in $138 million from 56 foreign markets. That gives it a worldwide total of $223 million after five days in release.

It's been nine years since moviegoers have had the chance to revisit Middle-earth and they were glad to be back, giving "The Hobbit" an "A" CinemaScore. The film is directed by Jackson and stars Ian McKellen as the wizard, Gandalf, and Martin Freeman as the titular hobbit, Bilbo Baggins. New Line and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer co-produced and co-financed the film.

Also on TheWrap: Why 'The Hobbit' Will Be Biggest Tolkien Tale Ever at the Box Office

The "Lord of the Rings" movies all opened the week before Christmas, but Warner Bros. head of distribution Dan Fellman said the studio saw an opportunity with "The Hobbit" to get a jump on the holiday season.

"You sort of lead with your chin when you go out early like this," Fellman told TheWrap, "but we knew we had a great picture, and we think we're set up to build on this from here. Next week is tricky since it's still pre-holiday, but by the time we get to Christmas we'll be rolling."

Also: What did the critics think?

Fellman said one of the goals was to attract a new generation of Middle-earth fans, and the numbers suggest that could happen. The audience was 42 percent under 25 years of age and 57 percent males.

Fellman noted that school's are generally still not out for the holiday break and that, combined with the "A+" CinemaScore that moviegoers under 18  who made up 20 percent of the audience  gave the film point to the potential to capitalize on younger audiences in the coming weeks.

The debut by "The Hobbit" is bigger than any of the "Rings" movies, including the franchise finale "The Return of the King," which opened to $72.6 million domestically in 2003.

"The Hobbit" is benefiting from a higher mark-up on 3D tickets. It is the first adaptation of the beloved J.R.R. Tolkien books to arrive in theaters in that format, which accounted for 3,160 of the total 4,045 screens and made up 49 percent of the overall gross. The per-location average overall was nearly $21,000. The 326 Imax locations brought in $10.1 million, averaging more than $30,000 per theater over the three days.

About 460 theaters showed "The Hobbit" in the groundbreaking but controversial 48 frame-per-second format -- which doubles the standard film speed and provides more clarity -- that Jackson utilized when he shot the movie. Between the high-speed film, 3D and Imax versions and combinations of those formats, moviegoers had six available options for viewing "The Hobbit."

Imax screens playing the film in the 48 fps format averaged $44,000 per location.

Friday s grosses for "The Hobbit" were swelled by the $13 million in sales from midnight screenings at 3,100 locations, 2,160 of which were 3D.

Finishing a distant No. 2 was DreamWorks' animated kids movie "Rise of the Guardians," which brought in $7.4 million to up its overall domestic total after four weeks to $71 million.

In its sixth week, DreamWorks and Disney's Oscar front-runner "Lincoln" brought in $7.2 million to raise its overall domestic total to nearly $108 million. Sony's James Bond thriller "Skyfall," also in its sixth week, finished fourth with $7 million. It has taken in $272 million domestically.

Fox's Oscar hopeful "Life of Pi" added $5.4 million this weekend. Director Ang Lee's lyrical epic has taken in nearly $70 million after four weeks.

Here are the weekend's top 10 movies:
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," $84.8 million
"Rise of the Guardians," $7.4 million
"Lincoln," $7.2 million
"Skyfall," $7 million
"Life of Pi," $5.4 million
"Twilight: Breaking Dawn -- Part 2," $5.2M
"Wreck-It Ralph," $3.3 million
"Playing for Keeps," $3.2 million
"Red Dawn," $2.4 million
"Silver Linings Playbook," $2.1 million

More from TheWrap:
'The Hobbit' at 48 Frames - Hey, What Happened to Middle-Earth?
'The Hobbit' Already Breaking a Record -- For Most Screen Options

Dec 16, 2012 2:20PM
Man, it is kind of a shame that a movie that completely destroys the book it is based on and has nothing to do with the book at all does so well.  Peter Jackson, maybe READ TOlkien's books before making movies.  It is extreme arrogance to completely change what they are about, how the characters act and interact, and the storylines to put your stamp on his work.  You are not good enough to have ever imagined such great stories, so you use computers to con people into a view of Middle Earth, only to completely insult TOlkien's works and creations.  Pathetic.
Dec 16, 2012 12:52PM
I saw the film this weekend. I also read some of the “critics” reviews just for laughs. I have a suggestion for many of the movie "critics" out there that panned this film for whatever varied reasons they postulated. Go find something that you're really good at and do that for a living. Stick with your strongpoints. Or, if you simply insist upon reviewing films, stay within your personal parameters. Watch the euro-trash artsy fartsy flicks that might appeal to you. Leave "fun" movies alone. Yes, "The Hobbit" added content to make it what it wasn't intended to be, a prequel to “Lord of The Rings”. Yes, "The Hobbit" eliminated many of the songs the dwarves sang throughout the book. And yes, "The Hobbit" was filmed at a higher rate. None of this, in my opinion, detracted from my enjoyment of the film. Simply stated, this movie is why we go to the theaters for. Entertainment. I was very, very entertained. It held my full attention for the entire 2 3/4 hours. At my age a film that long would have normally forced me to the restroom but not this one. I will be seeing the movie again soon and I suggest, recommend, that you go see it yourself. And stop reading or listening to any "critics".
Dec 16, 2012 12:22PM
It's a decent movie- would have been much better if they'd cut 20mins of the 'Hollywood' and stuck more closely to Tolkien....but isn't that always the case with movies?
Dec 16, 2012 12:05PM
This movie opened in a lot of theaters. I am not surprised by the big numbers; a lot of people wanted to see this movie. But..the reviews have NOT been kind to the movie-makers! I don't think that will matter, anyway!!  I do wonder, though, how they can come out with the 'numbers' before Sunday showings???? Why not wait until sometime Monday to announce the 'weekend take'???  I am 62 and read the book for the very first time less than 2 years ago!! I did love it!
Dec 16, 2012 11:56AM
It's bigger in gross dollars because the movie series "Lord of the Rings" have already provided the ground work.....simple as that!
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