Peter Jackson on the set of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"
Warner Bros. Peter Jackson on the set of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"

Three juggernauts grossing $28 million or more dominated a strong post-Christmas weekend, all jockeying for position since last Tuesday. The shakeout led to the top film on December 25 ("Les Miserables") falling to third by the weekend, beat out by top dog "The Hobbit" followed by "Django Unchained." But all three films contributed to a weekend total more than 20% above last year's results.

A fourth new release, "Parental Guidance," ended up overperforming despite receiving virtually none of the attention nabbed by the top three. These numbers managed to push total annual box office to a new record --an estimated $10.8 billion--by a small margin.

Because of the strong weekend, we are reporting a Top 13 List, as the business spread around a much wider number of films than most other times of the year. Another new release -- Paramount's "Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away" --managed only a 15th place finish ($2.4 million on just 840 screens).

Several major new limited releases showed varying degrees of strength, led by Sony's "Zero Dark 30," which grossed $315,000 in only five theaters. Further analysis of this and other significant new films in Arthouse Audit.

1. "The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey" (Warner Bros.) Week 3 - Last weekend #1

$32,920,000 (-11%) in 4,100 theaters (unchanged); PSA (per screen average): $8,029; Cumulative: $222,703,000

Impressively beating off the challenge of two strong new openers, "The Hobbit" rebounded from its third place Christimas Day showing to make an unexpected journey back to number one. While this domestic performance pales when compared to the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, overseas the prequel has already passed $600 million --with the holidays not yet over.

As a blockbuster, "The Hobbit" lags behind other major hits this year. "The Hunger Games," "The Avengers" and "The Dark Knight Rises" also were #1 on their third weekend, and all grossed more (as well as opening much larger). "Avatar" for its third weekend did more than double the "Hobbit"'s numbers.

But maintaining the top position against such rigorous holiday competition is no small feat, and suggests that banking on three films to maximize revenues should pay off.

What comes next: A fourth weekend at #1 isn't out of the question, although grosses will drop considerably post-holiday.

2. "Django Unchained" (Weinstein) NEW - Cinemascore: A-; Metacritic score: 81

$30,688,000 in 3,010 theaters; PSA: $10,195; Cumulative: $64,008,000

Weinstein's Christmas release has turned out far above expectations, as "Django Unchained" has soared from a great opening day to an even more impressive followup. Clearly benefiting from terrific word of mouth, even at 1,000 fewer theaters, it's right behind "The Hobbit" for the weekend.

The three-day figure isn't quite what "Inglourious Basterds" yielded ($38 million), but that was a Friday opening. "Django" already had grossed nearly as much for its three pre-weekend days, putting its six-day total at more than half of what "Basterds" did for its whole run. Even with its high-end production cost ($100 million), this looks well on its way to substantial success, assuming international response is at least as strong as domestic.

What comes next: A strong chance to make #1 next weekend. Will this enhance its uncertain Oscar chances? Hard to say how the Academy feels about the violence and --perhaps more importantly-- the foreshortened voting deadline just a few days away. But among the best picture nominees, it is likely that only "Lincoln" will be a bigger-grossing film.

3. Les Miserables (Universal) NEW - Cinemascore: A; Metacritic score: 64

$28,000,000 in 2,808 theaters; PSA: $9,960; Cumulative: $67,400,000