Martin Freeman in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"
Martin Freeman in "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"

The Top Ten surged this pre-holiday weekend, led by two films topping $25 million during a time period that is usually hurt by pre-Christmas shopping. "The Hobbit 2: The Desolation of Smaug" led the way, vaulting easily ahead of #1 Friday grosser "Anchorman 2." But both are very solid. 

Thus the weekend marked a big increase over last year ($139 million vs. $97 million). The Pre-Christmas weekend shows variable results depending on whether distributors choose to launch new films during the lower-grossing days leading up to December 25, or wait for Christmas Day. This year, four studio films opened wide (like last year) on the weekend, with five more waiting in the wings until Wednesday. Five more top 10 entries hope to sustain over the holidays, with several lower-run count entries looking to grab a piece of the holiday action- just as important new films demand more attention. Santa's sleigh is jammed full this year--but the gifts will not be evenly divided.

Alas, the studios have learned over the years, as one studio exec recently told the NYT, that moviegoers look forward to sequels. This week's top 10, including the top two, boasts six. Things will get more interesting on Wednesday. 

Among limited openings, Warner Bros.' "Her" led the way with a decent $43,000 per screen average in six New York/Los Angeles theaters. More of this and other more specialized films in Arthouse Audit anon.

1. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Warner Bros.) Week 2 - Last weekend #1

$31,455,000 (-57%) in 3,928 theaters (+25); PSA: $8,008; Cumulative: $127,500,000

The initial "Hobbit" last year managed to win its first three weekends, even besting the huge post-Christmas Day totals for "Django Unchained" and "Les Miserables." That might be a stretch this time around (last year's post-Christmas weekend fell 13%, and it should take more than $26 million to win this year), but with stronger competition already this year, the performance domestically so far remains quite good (with international at $135 million through last Thursday even better).

The first "Hobbit" dropped 55% its second weekend, grossed $36.9 million and totaled $150 through 10 days, clearly better than the performance of the trilogy's second entry. But unlike "The Lord of the Rings" threesome, the second installment didn't have nearly the same level of anticipation as happened with the momentum of Peter Jackson's previous Tolkien series. Most important, this is positioned to sustain strong numbers for the next two weeks, and has a good chance of doubling its current gross by the end of its run.

What comes next: "Smaug" still has Australia, Japan and China to open, so the strong foreign take represents less than its full potential. Even if this does fall short of the $1 billion-plus haul for the earlier film, it's clearly a success--even with a high-end budget of $225-250 million.

2. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (Paramount) NEW - Cinemascore: B; Criticwire: B; Metacritic: 61

$26,776,000 in 3,507 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $7.635 Cumulative: $40,000,000

Had this not had two days gross already in place, this might have threatened for #1 (where it placed for Friday). But the extra $13 million-plus added by the jump start was worth the effort, as writer-producer-star Will Ferrell's sequel should top the 2004 film's $80 million. It also smart not to wait until Christmas Day (where Paramount's "The Wolf of Wall Street" and two other comedies, "Grudge Match" and "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," are set to debut).

This is far ahead of "This Is 40," the Judd Apatow comedy's opening weekend in 2013 ($11,579,000). That film, boosted by its holiday take, ended up at $67 million. This should easily surpass $100 million, although the steep competition and mixed audience reaction (B Cinemascore) likely means it has seen its best weekend, and by some margin.

This is director Adam McKay's fifth film, with only his first ("Anchorman") not passing $100 million ("Talladega Nights," "Step Brothers" and "The Other Guys" were all hits for Sony). He returned to Dreamworks Productions (now released by Paramount) for this effort, brought in at a reasonable $50 million, with Apatow as one of the producers.

The first "Anchorman" only grossed $5 million foreign. The change in international play is apparent since that time; this has already taken in $13.4 million for its first weekend in just six countries.