(EW.com) -- Bilbo Baggins went after treasure this weekend, and he found a lot of it — just not quite as much as he did last year. Peter Jackson's latest Middle-earth adventure The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug earned $73.6 million in its opening weekend, marking a 13 percent drop from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey's $84.6 million bow in December 2012.
Smaug notched the fourth-best December opening weekend ever, after An Unexpected Journey, I Am Legend ($77.2 million), and Avatar ($77 million), and although it undercut its predecessor's debut, Warner Bros., who co-financed the film with MGM for about $225 million, can't be too disappointed with the result. The first Hobbit film finished with $303 million domestically and over $1 billion worldwide. Even if Smaug can't match those figures (if it plays like Journey, it's headed for $263 million domestically), it will be a hugely profitable venture for the studio.
In order to differentiate it from the first Hobbit, Warner Bros. marketed The Desolation of Smaug by focusing heavily on Evangeline Lilly's elvish character, Tauriel, who didn't appear in J.R.R. Tolkien's novel, as well as Orlando Bloom's Legolas, who returned for the prequels, and Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice of Smaug. Still, audiences, which were 60 percent male and 64 percent above the age of 25, weren't all convinced to give the series a second try after being turned off by the more juvenile An Unexpected Journey. The film pulled in 49 percent of its weekend gross from 3-D ticket sales, and IMAX screens made up $9.2 million of its haul. Crowds issued Smaug an "A--" CinemaScore grade.
In second place, Disney's animated musical Frozen didn't melt despite the heat of dragon's breath. The film fell only 30 percent to $22.2 million in its third weekend, giving it a remarkable $164.4 million — already more than its $150 million budget. At the same point in its run, Tangled had earned $115 million en route to a $200 million finish — and that film is a perfect comparison since it also opened wide over Thanksgiving weekend. If Frozen maintains its current pace, it will hit $285 million domestically. With no new family films on the horizon, it will be the top family choice over the upcoming holiday break.
Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas unwrapped only $16.2 million this weekend, marking the lowest-ever start for one of Perry's popular Madea films — and the second-lowest start ever for Perry as a director after 2007′s Daddy's Little Girls, which opened with $11.2 million. The last Madea entry, 2012′s Madea's Witness Protection, opened to $25.1 million, but Christmas, which cost Lionsgate about $25 million to produce, fell far short of that number. What makes that performance particularly shocking is that advance ticket sales were booming. If there's a silver lining, it's that, unlike the rest of the front-loaded Madea films, Christmas has the potential to hold up nicely in the two weeks leading up to the actual holiday. Audiences gave the picture an "A--" CinemaScore.
Two blockbuster sequels rounded out the top five. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire dropped 50 percent in its fourth weekend to $13.2 million, giving it a scorching $357 million total — and all against a sensible (for a movie of this scale) $130 million budget. It took the first Hunger Games five weeks to reach the same total on the way to a $408 million domestic finish, so Catching Fire still seems poised to break the $400 million mark. One rung lower, Thor: The Dark World grossed $2.7 million in its sixth frame and has now amassed $198.1 million. It will eke past the $200 million mark soon, and while that's no gross to shake a hammer at, it's slightly disappointing considering the original Thor earned $181 million and Disney was no doubt hoping for more than an 11 percent boost following The Avengers' run — especially given the fact that Iron Man 3 earned 31 percent more than Iron Man 2 ($409 million vs. $312 million) earlier this year.
1. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug -- $73.6 million
2. Frozen -- $22.2 million
3. A Madea Christmas -- $16.2 million
4. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire -- $13.2 million
5. Thor: The Dark World -- $2.7 million
In limited release, American Hustle proved its mettle with an eye-popping $115,000 per theater average — the second best of the year after Frozen's $243,390 premiere weekend in one theater. Hustle, which was directed by David O. Russell and stars Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, and Jennifer Lawrence, grossed $690,000 from only six theaters, and now appears ready to thrive when Sony pushes it into 2,500 locations next weekend. It certainly outshined Disney's Mary Poppins tale Saving Mr. Banks, which took in $421,000 in 15 theaters for a still solid $28,067 location average. The Tom Hanks/Emma Thompson vehicle expands to about 2,200 theaters next week.
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