Weekend Box Office: THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG Stays on Top with $31.4 Million; ANCHORMAN 2 in Second with $26.7 Million

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Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues may have pulled off a (very narrow) victory on Friday, but the weekend treasure remained in Bilbo’s hands.  The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was down 57% from its debut, earning an estimated $31.4 million and a second frame on top of the domestic box office.  Anchorman 2 came in second with $26.7 million: a softer launch than the sequel’s omnipresent marketing suggested.  Meanwhile, American Hustle and Saving Mr. Banks made their first appearances in the top ten, and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Thor: The Dark World hit important milestones.

 Title Weekend Total
1.  The Hobbit 2 $31,455,000 $127.5
2.  Anchorman 2 $26,776,000 $40
3.  Frozen $19,163,000 $191.5
4.  American Hustle $19,100,000 $20.2
5.  Saving Mr. Banks $9,321,000 $9.9
6.  Catching Fire $8,750,000 $371.7
7.  A Madea Christmas $8,500,000 $28.3
8.  Walking With Dinosaurs $7,300,000 $7.3
9.  Dhoom 3 $3,305,000 $3.3
10.  Thor: The Dark World $1,328,000 $200.7

anchorman-2-legend-continues-movie-posterAs in years past, the domestic box office was a bit crowded on 2013’s penultimate weekend.  Four major titles either opened or expanded in the last five days, with another four (or five, if you count the Justin Bieber documentary Believe) set to join them on Christmas Day.  All of the new films will have to contend with popular holdovers like The Hobbit 2 and Frozen, so why bother packing the schedule?  Well, it’s no secret that the weeks around Christmas are among the most lucrative of the year.  Even a film with a relatively soft weekend opening can go on to above-average grosses during this season of box office plenty.  That’s the dream, at any rate.

At this point, it’s too early to say whether the dream will come true for Anchorman 2.  The highly-anticipated sequel did not exactly live up to its hype on its first weekend.  From 3,507 locations, Anchorman 2 took in an estimated $26.7 million.  That’s down from the $28.4 million that Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy earned on its first frame in 2004… not adjusted for inflation.  After five days, the sequel has earned $40 million; short of the $50-$60 million that was projected.  With the amount of marketing that Will Ferrell and writer/director Adam McKay devoted to this launch, it’s tempting to declare Anchorman 2 a disappointment.  No doubt, the film’s premiere was softer than expected, but there is still a lot of holiday ahead.

A couple of things to keep in mind before counting Ron Burgundy out: Back in 2004, Anchorman reached a global total of $90.5 million,  but only 5% of that was earned overseas.  Nine years later, the studio will see a much higher international percentage, which should tip the scales if grosses do not improve domestically.  But there is still reason to believe that the sequel will play well here in the US through the end of the year.  Anchorman 2 received a solid ‘B’ CinemaScore and a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 76% – up from the 66% of the original.  Anchorman 2’s bar for financial success is also relatively low, with Paramount reporting that the sequel cost a thrifty $50 million before marketing.

american-hustle-posterThe lower than expected launch of Anchorman 2 was good news for The Hobbit 2.  One week ago, box office columns highlighted the fact that The Desolation of Smaug failed to reach the record-setting level of the trilogy’s first chapter.  An Unexpected Journey spent the last three weeks of 2012 on top of the domestic chart, so Smaug is now two-thirds of the way to matching that particular goal.  In terms of actual grosses, the sequel lags 15% behind Journey at the ten day mark in North America.  Global estimates put the film at $262 million, so Smaug has just $700 million or so to go before it catches up to Journey.

The Hobbit 2 clearly dominated last weekend’s box office coverage, overshadowing the limited bows of both American Hustle and Saving Mr. Banks in the process.  Now playing nationwide, American Hustle earned a strong $19.1 million – 57% ahead of director David O. Russell’s The Fighter and 44% ahead of Silver Linings Playbook in their first frames in wide release.  Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks had a softer start, earning an estimated $9.3 million from 2,110 locations.

Along with The Hobbit 2, two blockbuster holdovers had reason to celebrate on this pre-Christmas weekend.  Thor: The Dark World passed the $200 million mark on Saturday, topping the $181 million final domestic gross Thor realized in 2011.  Saturday also saw The Hunger Games: Catching Fire surpass Despicable Me 2 to become the second-highest grossing title of 2013.  Katniss now claims $371.7 million to Gru’s $367.4 million, while Iron Man 3 remains comfortably out front with $409 million.

Finally, some of you may have noticed a movie called Dhoom 3 towards the bottom of the top ten and may be wondering how you missed it (not to mention Dhoom 1 and Dhoom 2).  Rest easy because, unless you are a Bollywood devotee, you wouldn’t have seen this one coming.  The foreign language feature opened in just 236 domestic locations this weekend, but did well enough to make it to the top ten with $3.3 million.  That’s not quite as impressive a foreign-language debut as this summer’s Instructions Not Included  but, considering that Fox’s Walking With Dinosaurs brought in only $7.3 million from 3,231 locations (and was in English), I’d say it’s pretty incredible nonetheless.

At the start of this year’s long holiday box office, overall earnings were up by 20% from the same weekend in 2012.  That bodes well for next week, which will host another four new titles in at least 2,000 locations.  Christmas Day’s movie offerings include The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, 47 Ronin and The Wolf of Wall Street.  In terms of the post-Christmas weekend, both Walter Mitty and Wall Street are expected to bring in about $20 million, but a lot can change in the course of one week.  Seven days ago I was sure that Anchorman 2 would knock The Hobbit 2 out of first place so I’m not at all comfortable calling next week’s race… except for 47 Ronin.  That’s in trouble.

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