One year after The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey set new records for a December release, The Desolation of Smaug is opening in line with expectations – without setting a new record, in other words. The second chapter in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy earned an estimated $73.7 million from 3,903 locations, or the fourth-highest December debut of all time.
|1.||The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug||$73,675,000||$73.7|
|3.||Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas||$16,000,000||$16|
|4.||The Hunger Games: Catching Fire||$13,150,000||$356.9|
|5.||Thor: The Dark World||$2,700,000||$198.1|
|6.||Out of the Furnace||$2,320,000||$9.4|
|9.||The Book Thief||$1,675,000||$14.8|
Coming from one of the most-highly anticipated movies of 2013, there may be a tendency to see the Smaug opening as disappointing, though that is not necessarily the case.
On this weekend last year, An Unexpected Journey was a monster. Part one of The Hobbit trilogy launched in 4,045 locations and in four formats: 2D, 3D, IMAX 3D and the brand-new High Frame Rate (HFR) 3D. So it came as no surprise when The Hobbit broke all December-opening records, including those for its first-day, weekend and midnight debuts. The Hobbit went on to spend three weekends at number one, earning $303 million in the US and over $1 billion worldwide. Keeping those numbers in mind, it may be hard to remember that the first Hobbit was initially considered an underperformer. So when is a record-breaker not an automatic slam dunk? When it is set in Middle Earth, apparently.
With its obvious connection to The Lord of the Rings franchise, expectations for Journey were outsized. Conservative projections ran from $90 to $95 million, but many more believed $100 million was more likely. Journey wound up with $84.7 million. That topped all three of the LOTR openings (not adjusted for inflation), but because 50% of the film’s profits came from higher-priced 3D venues (not available for LOTR), its failure to hit $100 million seemed notable.
With that in mind, how should this morning’s Smaug debut be viewed? In terms of blockbuster franchises, it’s rare for a second film to open lower than its predecessor. Each of the LOTR features opened above the film that preceded it, for example, and most traditional ‘sequels’ wind up much higher than their sires. Of course, both Spider-Man 2 and Star Trek Into Darkness opened lower than their first chapters, and both went on to do amazing business. And there’s always international numbers to factor in: international estimates already top $131.2 million, giving Smaug a global cume of $205 million as of Sunday.
At this time last year, The Hobbit had the box office all to itself, but in 2013 Bilbo faced potential competition in the form of Madea. Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas opened in 2,194 locations on Friday and earned an estimated $16 million in its first three days. That is just over half as much as Tyler Perry’s first Madea movie – Madea’s Family Reunion – opened to back in 2006. Perry has certainly seen a few box office disappointments in the past year or so, but most believed that Madea would remain immune. Perhaps five films was one too many?
Without a solid opening under her belt, it will be especially hard for Madea to distinguish herself amidst the flood of Christmas features that are about to hit theatres. Anchorman 2 is up first next Wednesday. The long awaited sequel is expected to dwarf its predecessor’s $28.4 million opening, which means that The Desolation of Smaug will have to realize an epic hold to win a second weekend on top of the domestic box office. We’ll see what happens.