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-A) 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.
Fool contributor Steve Symington has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.