Braving the snow, sleet and other miscellaneous travails relating to cold weather, audiences came out in droves for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." The second of the three 'Hobbit' installments (or 'The Lord of the Rings' prequels, cue wincing from Tolkien fans) took the top spot and made $73.7 million for the weekend, which included a strong midnight opening night of $8.8 million, the second best ever for the month of December. Unfortunately, the best was its predecessor "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," which casts a looming shadow on the rest of its box office performance. For example, 'The Desolation of Smaug' had the 4th best December opening ever, taking the spot from "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," but 'An Unexpected Journey' still holds the record for the best ever with $84.8 million. Similarly, 'The Desolation of Smaug' marks the second best opening of Peter Jackson's career (not adjusting for inflation), after 'An Unexpected Journey' and beating out "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." Even with critics, it generally went over well, just not as well. 'The Desolation of Smaug' scored a decent 'A-' on CinemaScore (full disclosure—we weren't the biggest fans, giving it a 'C' in our review), but 'An Unexpected Journey' scored an 'A' on CinemaScore and we gave it a 'B+'. On the same track of its predecessor, even if falling a bit short, 'The Desolation of Smaug' should go on to rake in at least $250 million domestically ('An Unexpected Journey' made $303 million) and would make it Jackson's fifth-highest grossing, beating out "King Kong." With its main competition being holiday releases "Anchorman 2" and "The Wolf of Wall Street," 'The Desolation of Smaug' could even go on to match 'An Unexpected Journey,' but we doubt it will manage to surpass it into the upper echelons of "The Lord of the Rings" territory ('The Return of the King'—$377.8 million, 'The Two Towers'—$342.6 million, 'The Fellowship of the Ring'—$315.5 million).
Gliding into second, "Frozen" continued to warm hearts this weekend with $22.2 million, crossing the domestic $150 million mark with a running total of $164.4 million and making back its $150 production budget.
"Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas" didn't melt too many holiday hearts with $16 million for the weekend, the worst debut for a Madea movie ever (the second worst now being the first "Tyler Perry's Diary of a Mad Black Woman"). 'A Madea Christmas' also marks the third worst opening of Tyler Perry's career, with his worse received films being "Tyler Perry's Good Deeds" and "Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls." If it follows the Tyler Perry trajectory, it probably won't reach the domestic $90 million of "Tyler Perry's Madea Goes To Jail," but it should end up somewhere in the $50-60 million range for the run.
Still standing tall, "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" cooled down a bit at the box office, coming in fourth and making $13.2 million. Even with a 49.8% drop in domestic ticket sales, 'Catching Fire' has not only crossed the domestic $350 million mark (with a running total of $357 million), but also has made a whopping total of $739.9 million worldwide, beating the $691 million of its predecessor's run. Also still standing, though not as tall, "Thor: The Dark World" came in fifth and made $2.7 million. Suffering the biggest drop in ticket sales (55.6%), "Out of the Furnace" made $2.3 million. "Delivery Man" received $1.9 million. "Philomena" found out $1.8 million, crossing the $10 million mark with a running total of $11 million. "The Book Thief" stole its way to ninth with $1.7 million for the weekend and is nearing the $15 million mark with a running total of $14.9 million. Dropping four spots since its debut last weekend, "Homefront" rounds out the top ten with $1.6 million.
As for films playing in limited release, David O. Russell's star-studded (Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, etc.), highly-hyped con dramedy "American Hustle" not only topped the weekend but the entirety of 2013 with a per theater average of $115,000 (grossing $690,000 at 6 theaters).In a not-so-close second, John Lee Hancock's "Saving Mr. Banks" (starring Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson, about the behind-the-scenes of bringing Mary Poppins to the big screen) opened in 15 theaters and grossed $421,000, averaging $28,067 per theater. Both films are set for wide release next weekend.
As for specialty releases (as Peter Knegt distinguished on IndieWire in his always stellar box office column), Joel & Ethan Coen's "Inside Llewyn Davis" continued to lead the indie pack. Expanding from 4 to 15 theaters, the '60s folk scene drama made $344,000, averaging $22,933 per theater. In its third week, Justin Chadwick's "Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom" played in 4 theaters (with plans for expansion next weekend) and made $31,809, averaging $7,953 per theater. In its fifth week, Alexander Payne's "Nebraska" expanded from 115 to 250 theaters and made $850,000, averaging $3,400 per theater.
1. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Warner Bros.) - $73,675,000
2. Frozen (Buena Vista) - $22,184,000 ($164,388,000)
3. Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas (Lionsgate) - $16,000,000
4. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Lionsgate) - $13,150,000 ($356,982,000)
5. Thor: The Dark World (Buena Vista) - $2,700,000 ($198,125,000)
6. Out of the Furnace (Relativity Media) - $2,320,000 ($9,468,000)
7. Delivery Man (Buena Vista) - $1,872,000 ($27,995,000)
8. Philomena (The Weinstein Company) - $1,756,000 ($11,019,000)
9. The Book Thief (Fox) - $1,675,000 ($14,877,000)
10. Homefront (Open Road Films) - $1,637,000 ($18,438,000)