The Warner Bros. fantasy epic from director Peter Jackson, based on the beloved J.R.R. Tolkien novel, made nearly $33 million this weekend, according to Sunday studio estimates, despite serious competition from some much-anticipated newcomers. It's now made a whopping $686.7 million worldwide and $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 $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 $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 $67.5 million domestically and $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 $14.8 million over the weekend for fourth place and $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 $40 million in North American grosses, including $18.2 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.
Nikki Rocco, Universal's head of distribution, said the debut for "Les Miserables" also beat the studio's expectations.
"That $18.2 million Christmas Day opening - people were shocked ... This is a musical!" she said. "Once people see it, they talk about how fabulous it is."
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 $207.4 million in May. The raunchy comedy "Ted" and comic-book behemoth "The Dark Knight Rises" both found enormous audiences. And Paul Thomas Anderson's challenging drama "The Master" shattered records in September when it opened on five screens in New York and Los Angeles with $736,311, for a staggering per-screen average of $147,262.
"We were able to get this record without scratching and clawing to a record," he said.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Where available, latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.
1. "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," $32.9 million ($106.5 million international).
2."Django Unchained," $30.7 million.
3."Les Miserables," $28 million ($38.3 million international).
4."Parental Guidance," $14.8 million ($7 million international).
5."Jack Reacher," $14 million ($18.1 million).
6."This Is 40," $13.2 million.
7."Lincoln," $7.5 million.
8."The Guilt Trip," $6.7 million.
9."Monsters, Inc. 3-D," $6.4 million.
10."Rise of the Guardians," $4.9 million ($11.6 million).
Estimated weekend ticket sales at international theaters (excluding the U.S. and Canada) for films distributed overseas by Hollywood studios, according to Rentrak:
1."The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," $106.5 million.
2."Life of Pi," $39.2 million.
3."Les Miserables," $38.3 million.
4."Wreck-It Ralph," $20.4 million.
5."Jack Reacher," $18.1 million.
6."Rise of the Guardians," $11.6 million.
7."Parental Guidance," $7 million.
8."The Tower," $6.6 million.
9."Pitch Perfect," $6.2 million.
10."De L'autre Cote Du Periph," $4 million.