'The Hobbit' Hobbles Into First Place at the Box Office

Plus: It's a cruel Yule for 'Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas'

Martin Freeman, Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit, The Desolation of Smaug, lord of the rings, JRR Tolkein
Warner Bros. Pictures
Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
By |

WINNER OF THE WEEK: Christian Bale. The Artist Formerly Known as Batman has two top-15 movies this week. Out of the Furnace is holding up well at Number Six with an estimated $2.3 million (for a 10-day total of $9.5 million), despite lackluster reviews and heavy competition for action audiences. Meanwhile, his Oscar-hopeful movie American Hustle opened at Number 15 with a per-screen average of $115,000 (that's an estimated $690,000 on six screens), the highest per-screen average of any movie this week. (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug earned $18,877 per screen, about one-sixth as much as American Hustle.)

See What Made Our List of the 10 Best Movies of 2013

LOSERS OF THE WEEK: The dragon and the drag queen. How can the second Hobbit be called a loser when it opened at Number One with an estimated $73.7 million, the fourth-highest December opening ever? Because expectations for Baggins-vs.-dragon tale were so much higher. After all, the first Hobbit opened a year ago with $84.6 million. Some pundits expected this second installment to open just as big. But 2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey squandered a lot of the good will generated by Peter Jackson's previous Tolkien trilogy, and even though The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has earned stronger reviews, the fair-weather fans among Middle-earthers have been slow to return. And we had anything but fair weather this weekend, thanks to crushing Winter Storm Electra.

As for Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas, that one should also have opened much higher than an estimated $16.0 million and third place; expectations were in the $25 to $30 million range, given the track record of Perry's movies where he plays the gun-toting grandma. A Christmas movie should have been a can't-miss among Perry's spiritually-minded, largely female, older African-American audience. But there was a lot of competition for that crowd this season (including the still strong The Best Man Holiday, as well as Black Nativity). Add to that the weather conditions, including maybe some Smaug. It's possible that there's more overlap than you'd imagine between the Tolkien and Tyler Perry audiences, both of which are predominantly made up of people over 25.

Smaug also took a big bite out of the other current fantasy/action spectacles. In fourth place, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire fell 50 percent from last weekend to an estimated $13.2 million, bringing its four-week total to $357.0 million. At Number Five, Thor: The Dark World dropped 44 percent to an estimated $2.7 million, for a six-week total just shy of $200 million. The only top-five movie that held up well was Disney's Frozen, down just 30 percent, for an estimated $22.2 million take, a second-place finish, and a four-week total of $164.4 million.

HANKS AND 'BANKS': American Hustle wasn't the only movie to do well in a limited-release debut this weekend. Disney's making-of-Mary-Poppins drama Saving Mr. Banks opened on 15 screens and earned an impressive $28,067 per venue, for an estimated total of $421,000. Fittingly, the Tom Hanks-Emma Thompson movie came in on the chart just one spot ahead of Hanks' Captain Phillips, still hanging in there (and still generating Oscar buzz) after 10 weeks with an estimated $285,000 on 323 screens, for a total to date of $104.0 million. Aside from the eligible animated movies, that makes the modern-day pirate thriller one of the top-earning movies of all this season's Oscar hopefuls.