Box Office: 'Hobbit' Beating 'Anchorman 2' Friday; 'American Hustle' Soars in Expansion

'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug'
'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug'
 Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

David O. Russell's critically acclaimed American Hustle is shining in its nationwide expansion, and could earn north of $20 million for the weekend in a victory for the filmmaker and Sony as awards season heats up.

If it continues to overperform, American Hustle is tipped to come in No. 3 behind holdover The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and Will Ferrell comedy Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. Based on early Friday results, box office observers now believe Smaug will stay at No. 1 in its second weekend with a gross north of $30 million. From Warner Bros., New Line and MGM, Desolation of Smaug will jump the $100 million mark domestically sometime on Friday and $300 million worldwide.

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Paramount's Anchorman 2, opening Wednesday, hopes to hit $30 million for the weekend itself, although rivals put its weekend take in the $27 million to $28 million range. At that pace, the sequel should gross $40 million for the five days (Wednesday through Sunday), a solid start. In its first two days, the comedy earned $13.2 million.

Anchorman 2, made for $50 million and receiving a B CinemaScore, sees the return of Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, David Koechner and Christina Applegate while adding newcomers James Marsden, Harrison Ford and Kristen Wiig. It follows the news team as they make the transition from San Diego to New York. Adam McKay returns to direct from a script he co-wrote with Ferrell.

The final two weeks of the year are a bonanza for moviegoing (as one studio distributor puts it, "Every day is a Saturday"). Films may not sport huge openings, but can enjoy unusually strong multiples. As in other years, this year brings a potpourri of commercial titles and award contenders.

Like American Hustle, Disney's live-action awards hopeful Saving Mr. Banks is also expanding nationwide on Friday (both films opened in New York and Los Angeles last weekend in order to trigger reviews and strong word-of-mouth). Saving Mr. Banks, with a production budget of $35 million, is expected to gross $11 million to $13 million. That's a solid number considering the film is likely to skew older, meaning it will grow more slowly.

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Saving Mr. Banks, starring Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers, is projected to take in $11.5 million to north of $13 million, potentially putting it in a close race with 3D adventure Walking With Dinosaurs. The film, receiving strong reviews, cost $35 million to produce.

American Hustle, recounting the Abscam political scandal of the late 1970s and early 1980s, boasts a strong ensemble cast led by Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence. Earlier this month, American Hustle picked up seven Golden Globe nominations, tying with Fox Searchlight's 12 Years a Slave for the most nods. The film, produced by Megan Ellison, Charles Roven, Richard Suckle and Jonathan Gordon, cost $40 million to make.

At the family box office, the big surprise is the continued strength of Disney's Frozen. Now a month into its run, the animated tentpole is beating new family entry Walking With Dinosaurs at the Friday box office.

Walking With Dinosaurs may have trouble hitting $10 million for the weekend, while Frozen is expected to hit the low teens. Frozen's worldwide gross through Thursday was $274 million.

Walking With Dinosaurs, adapted from the BBC miniseries, should benefit from being the only new family entry of the Christmas season. The $80 million film, adapted from the BBC miniseries and receiving dismal reviews, has no human cast and tells the story of Patchi, an underdog dinosaur who transforms into a hero (Justin Long and John Leguizamo lead the voice cast). Walking With Dinosaurs, produced by BBC and Evergreen, was co-financed by Reliance, IM Global and Fox for roughly $80 million.

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