Weekend Box Office: 'Smaug' on Pace for $75 Million Debut

Box office results: Time Warner, Disney, Lionsgate battle

Warner Bros. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug made its box office debut Friday, Image source: Time Warner

Much to the joy of J.R.R. Tolkien fans everywhere, yesterday marked the box office launch of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

But you can bet the folks at Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) Warner Bros. were nervous from the start. After all, the big-budget sequel landed a light $8.8 million haul from its select Thursday midnight showings, compared to a massive $13 million Thursday/midnight take from the first Hobbit film last year.

Even so, that was still easily good enough for the second-highest ever December midnight opening. What's more, Friday evening proved more promising as Smaug picked up the pace, bringing its total domestic sales to approximately $31.15 million. Keeping in mind the first The Hobbit's Friday-weekend multiple and assuming Smaug can maintain its legs for the next two days, that puts the $225 million sequel on track for an impressive $75 million opening weekend gross.

That's not nearly enough, however, to break The Hobbit's $84.6 million December opening weekend record, but stands respectable nonetheness -- in fact, it would be good enough for fourth place overall, well ahead of the $72.6 million from 2003's The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, and just behind $77 million from 2009's Avatar.

In addition -- and just like its predecessor -- Smaug is enjoying impressive acceptance overseas as evidenced by its solid $24 million so far, and even while it's yet to open in at least nine distinct geographies. For reference, remember more than 70% of The Hobbit's $1 billion gross came from international movie-goers when all was said and done one year ago, and early projections this time are no different.

Here's how the competition's faring

Meanwhile, Lionsgate's (NYSE: LGF  ) Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas opened to an estimated $5.74 million Friday, significantly lower than the $10.1 million Friday take last June from Madea's Witness Protection.  All told, that means Madea's Christmas opening weekend should arrive in the $16 million range, easily marking Tyler Perry's lowest Madea film debut to date.

On a brighter note, Disney's (NYSE: DIS  ) Frozen held up reasonably well in its third Friday, down just 24.1% from the same day last week to $5.1 million. Assuming Frozen also continues with last weekend's solid Friday weekend multiple, that puts Disney's animated blockbuster on track to bring in almost exactly what I had suggested yesterday at $24 million.

Finally, while Lionsgate's The Hunger Games: Catching Fire has held up better than last weekend so far, falling "just" 47.3% to $4.1 million Friday, that still only puts the studio's fourth-weekend holdover on pace for around $14 million come Monday. However, it's worth noting that also brings Catching Fire's total worldwide sales to a solid $684.6 million to date, which means the sequel should easily exceed the $691.2 million earned by the first Hunger Games last spring.

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