Box Office Guru Wrapup: The Hobbit Debuts at the Top

Frozen drops to second, while The Hunger Games falls to fourth.

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This weekend, audiences powered the latest Middle Earth saga The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug into the number one spot, but fewer of them took the journey this time. The Warner Bros. release opened to an estimated $73.7M which was about $11M less than the $84.6M debut for the first chapter An Unexpected Journey from this same week a year ago.

The first installment was helped by nine years of anticipation since the last Lord of the Rings movie debuted. This time around, the second pic was not as big of an event. Also, there were some who were not fully satisfied with Journey and dropped out this time. Bad weather and snowstorms in parts of the country also had an impact on the overall marketplace.

3D screens accounted for 49% of the take which was identical to last year's Hobbit. But more women were lost this time around. This weekend's male share was 60%, up from the 57% for Journey last year. The CinemaScore was an A- which was a notch below the A from last time.

Overseas, Smaug was more even with Journey, with a big weekend debut of $131.2M since Wednesday from 49 markets, which was seven fewer than what Journey had in its debut frame. That put the global premiere for Smaug at $204.9M. Journey went on to collect over $1 billion worldwide last year. Though the domestic results for the new film are smaller, international markets are showing roughly the same interest, so hitting the billion mark cannot be ruled out just yet.

Dropping one notch to second place but still doing gangbusters was the Disney smash Frozen with an estimated $22.2M for a small 30% slide. After its third weekend of wide play, the animated pic has grossed a sensational $164.4M and is running a whopping 43% ahead of the pace of 2010's Tangled at this same point in time with the same calendar. With the holiday break still to come, Frozen should race past the $250M mark domestically.

Tyler Perry's latest comedy A Madea Christmas sank to a new low and debuted in third with an estimated $16M. It was the worst opening ever for a Madea film and considerably less than the $25M neighborhood that the last two premiered in. Female-skewing comedies and dramas tend to open softer in mid-December but have better legs when audiences are finished with weekend distractions like holiday shopping. Playing in 2,194 theaters, Madea Christmas averaged $7,293 -- solid, but subpar by Tyler Perry standards. The audience for the Lionsgate release was 67% female and 63% 25 and up. The CinemaScore grade was an A-.

Falling 50% in its fourth weekend was The Hunger Games: Catching Fire with an estimated $13.2M, boosting the cume to $357M. The second Katniss flick is running 6% ahead of the pace of its predecessor, though that gap is closing quickly as the sequel is seeing larger declines. The first Hunger Games grossed a much stronger $21.1M in its fourth weekend.

Catching Fire continued its stellar international run with the overseas take climbing to $372.9M and the worldwide sum reaching $739.9M. The new installment has now surpassed the $691M final global take of the first Hunger Games and has a shot at breaking the $800M mark with most of the growth coming from foreign markets.

Thor: The Dark World followed in fifth with an estimated $2.7M, down 44%, for a $198.1M domestic cume. The Disney release has taken in $421.8M overseas for a robust worldwide tally of $619.9M.

Falling 56% in its second weekend was the Christian Bale drama Out of the Furnace with an estimated $2.3M. The Relativity title has collected a measly $9.5M and looks headed for a final of about $15M.

Four films rounded out the top ten with modest grosses of under $2M each. Vince Vaughn's Delivery Man dropped 50% to an estimated $1.9M and has given Disney $28M to date. With three Golden Globe nominations including Best Picture and Best Actress in the Drama category, Judi Dench's Philomena held up very well, sliding only 20% to an estimated $1.8M without any expansion of screens. The Weinstein Co. release has made $11M so far from under 900 theaters.

Fox's The Book Thief took in an estimated $1.7M, down 36%, for a modest total of $14.9M so far. The Jason Statham action entry Homefront tumbled 52% to an estimated $1.6M for $18.4M to date for Open Road.

Exploding in platform release as one of the hottest tickets in town was David O. Russell's latest film American Hustle, which opened to an estimated $690,000 from only six theaters for a jaw-dropping $115,000 average. Nominated for seven Golden Globes, including Best Picture - Comedy or Musical, the all-star film drew audience interest with its glowing reviews and stellar cast which includes Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jeremy Renner. Sony is well-positioned to take Hustle nationwide which happens on Friday when it expands to over 2,500 runs, though it will be a competitive frame with Paramount's launch of its all-star comedy Anchorman 2 this Wednesday in 3,400 locations.

Disney enjoyed a good limited bow of its own with the Tom Hanks-Emma Thompson pic Saving Mr. Banks which grossed an estimated $421,000 from 15 locations for a $28,067 average. The figure included special $50 tickets in Southern California which included a studio tour on the Disney lot. Reviews have been good for the PG-13 film which expands nationally on Friday into 2,200 locations.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $137M which was up 8% from last year when The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opened at number one with $84.6M; and up 29% from 2011 when Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows debuted in the top spot with $39.6M.

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