The Hobbit Hammers December Record
By John Hamann
December 16, 2012
Ho ho ho hobbit. Peter Jackson’s J.R.R. Tolkien tales at Christmas are becoming so popular, they should have its own Christmas carol. The Hobbit Holiday blockbuster took in $84.8 million this weekend, a record for a December frame.
After a great early-November with Argo, Skyfall and Wreck-It Ralph on top, Twilight showed up - drunk - and ruined what could have been a nice Thanksgiving. Now that we’ve cleaned up the blood and Part 2 is safely tucked away in the bottom rungs of the top ten, we can celebrate the arrival of The Hobbit, which is a better-made film at least, but may be even greedier than those darned Twilight kids. Everyone should know by now that this is part one of three – not book one of three – and we will be dealing with Hobbits for a while to come. At least George Lucas didn’t direct.
After an abysmal box office weekend in the last frame, the question wasn’t whether or not The Hobbit would be #1, it was how big it was going to be. With early reviews not being overly kind, a few alarms must have rung at Warner Bros. Critics complained loudly about the length, the frames per second, and scenes that never seemed to end. Personally, when I read those I was reminded of Jackson’s end to Return of the King, and how through the last half hour I grew to not like the characters I had spent the previous nine hours with. At Rotten Tomatoes, The Hobbit is 65% fresh at the time of this writing, but "top critics," those that are actually read, were less kind, coming in at only 42%. The Cinemascore was an A, but those scores would have been recorded during the evening showings on Thursday night, which would have been much like being at Comicon.
The Hobbit opened late Thursday (midnight screenings is suddenly a misnomer, as studios have figured out they can get two screenings in if they start at 10 p.m.), and secured $13 million for New Line, MGM, and the distributor Warner Bros., a record for December (beating a December box office record is like beating your grandma at the high jump). The good news from the Thursday number is that advanced ticket sales were strong for The Hobbit, and not much else. The devil was in the Friday number, as the Newtown, Connecticut school shootings could have been put a serious damper on moviegoing on Friday. It didn’t, but the Colorado movie theatre shootings didn’t seem to stop The Dark Knight Rises, either. Even so, it is hard to provide empirical evidence about people *not* going to the movies. The number released for The Hobbit’s Friday was $37.5 million, which looks great, but then the calculator comes out.
After we pull the $13 million out of that $37.5 million, we are left with $24.5 million for that "true" Friday. How did The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey do relative to Return of the King? The Lord of the Rings films all opened on Wednesday, which makes comparisons more difficult. However, Return of the King pulled in $34.4 million on its first Wednesday in 2003, but $8 million of that was from late night Thursday screenings. This means Return of the King had a "true" Friday of $26.4 million, or $2 million more than the first episode of The Hobbit. Is this in any way bad news? No way. Despite the relation to the Lord of the Rings films, this is Part 1 of a three-part series. Audience "build-up" prior to release was only with fanboys. As an example, my parents saw The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in the theater on opening weekend, but will likely catch The Hobbit on Blu-ray. They say it's too long.