The Hobbit continues to rule at box office

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. Photo/supplied
Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. Photo/supplied

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey continues to rule them all at the box office, staying on top for a third-straight week and capping a record-setting US$10.8 billion year in moviegoing.

The Warner Bros. fantasy epic from director Peter Jackson, based on the beloved J.R.R. Tolkien novel, made nearly US$33 million this weekend, according to Sunday studio estimates, despite serious competition from some much-anticipated newcomers. It's now made a whopping US$686.7 million worldwide and US$222.7 million domestically alone.

Two big holiday movies and potential Academy Awards contenders also had strong openings. Quentin Tarantino's spaghetti Western-blaxploitation mash-up Django Unchained came in second place for the weekend with US$30.7 million. The Weinstein Co. revenge comedy, starring Jamie Foxx as a slave in the Civil War South and Christoph Waltz as the bounty hunter who frees him and then makes him his partner, has earned US$64 million since its Christmas Day opening.

And in third place with $28 million was the sweeping, all-singing Les Miserables, based on the international musical sensation and the Victor Hugo novel of strife and uprising in 19th century France. The Universal Pictures film, with a cast of A-list actors singing live on camera led by Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe has made US$67.5 million domestically and US$116.2 worldwide since debuting on Christmas.

Additionally, the smash-hit James Bond adventure Skyfall has now made $1 billion internationally to become the most successful film yet in the 50-year franchise, Sony Pictures announced Sunday. The film stars Daniel Craig for the third time as the iconic British superspy.

"This is a great final weekend of the year,'' said Paul Dergarabedian, an analyst for box-office tracker Hollywood.com. "How perfect to end this year on such a strong note with the top five films performing incredibly well.''

The week's other new wide release, the Billy Crystal-Bette Midler comedy Parental Guidance from 20th Century Fox, made US$14.8 million over the weekend for fourth place and US$29.6 million total since opening on Christmas.

Dergarabedian described the holding power of The Hobbit in its third week as "just amazing.'' Jackson shot the film, the first of three prequels to his massively successful Lord of the Rings series, in 48 frames per second double the normal frame rate for a crisper, more detailed image. It's also available in the usual 24 frames per second and both 2-D and 3-D projections.

"I think people are catching up with the movie. Maybe they're seeing it in multiple formats,'' he said. "I think it's just a big epic that feels like a great way to end the moviegoing year. There's momentum there with this movie.''

Django Unchained is just as much of an epic in its own stylishly violent way that's quintessentially Tarantino. Erik Lomis, The Weinstein Co.`s president of theatrical distribution, said the opening exceeded the studio's expectations.

"We're thrilled with it, clearly. We knew it was extremely competitive at Christmas, particularly when you look at the start `Les Miz' got. We were sort of resigned to being behind them. The fact that we were able to overtake them over the weekend was just great,'' Lomis said. "Taking nothing away from their number, it's a tribute to the playability of `Django.'''

Les Miserables went into its opening weekend with nearly US$40 million in North American grosses, including US$18.2m on Christmas Day. That's the second-best opening ever on the holiday following Sherlock Holmes, which made $24.9 million on Christmas 2009. Tom Hooper, in a follow-up to his Oscar-winner The King's Speech, directs an enormous, ambitious take on the beloved musical which has earned a CinemaScore of "A'' from audiences and "A-plus'' from women.

It all adds up to a record-setting year at the movies, beating the previous annual record of $10.6 billion set in 2009. Dergarabedian pointed out that the hits came scattered throughout the year, not just during the summer blockbuster season or prestige-picture time at the end.

Contraband, Safe House and The Vow all performed well early on, but then when the big movies came, they were huge. The Avengers had the biggest opening ever with US$207.4 million in May. The raunchy comedy Ted and comic-book behemoth The Dark Knight Rises both found enormous audiences.
"We were able to get this record without scratching and clawing to a record,'' he said.

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