Box Office: 'Hobbit' Ekes Past 'Wolf of Wall Street' on Busy Christmas

10:09 AM PST 12/26/2013 by Pamela McClintock

UPDATED: Universal's "47 Ronin" comes in No. 6 with $7.1 million despite its $175 million budget, while Justin Bieber's concert doc "Believe" falls outside of the top 10 with $1.3 million.

Martin Scorsese's sex-laced The Wolf of Wall Street -- starring Leonardo DiCaprio as debauched Wall Street bad boy Jordan Belfort -- and holdover The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug ended Christmas Day in a virtual tie at the North American box office.

Desolation of Smaug finished slightly ahead, taking in $9.3 million, compared to $9.2 million for Wolf of Wall Street.

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Wolf of Wall Street was among six films launching nationwide on Dec. 25, when attendance surges in the afternoon and remains vibrant until people return to work and school in the new year.

Universal's long-delayed 47 Ronin took in $7.1 million to come in at No. 6, a problematic start considering the movie's $175 million budget. The samurai epic, starring Keanu Reeves, did receive a B+ CinemaScore.

47 Ronin is destined to lose a substantial amount of money, considering it needs to earn hundreds of millions of dollars globally. The movie, originally set to open in November 2012, is off to a soft start in several key Asian markets, including Japan, and it could have trouble reaching $20 million in its five-day domestic debut. Universal co-financed the film with Elliott Management.

Universal has known the film was troubled financially for quite some time and says it has already accounted for a potential loss. "Universal Pictures regularly evaluates its film slate for potential adjustment. In the case of 47 Ronin, we adjusted film costs in previous quarters and as a result our financial performance will not be negatively impacted this quarter by its theatrical performance," the studio said in a statement.

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Wolf of Wall Street, already a critical and awards darling, cost north of $100 million to make and was fully financed by Red Granite Pictures. The movie is based on the memoir by Belfort, the disgraced Wall Street broker notorious for his sexual escapades and drug use.

Paramount is releasing and marketing Wolf of Wall Street, which barely received an R rating (Scorsese agreed to trim certain sex scenes in order to avoid getting slapped with an NC-17). The big question is whether the movie, expected to do especially well on both coasts, will play in America's heartland (the film's C CinemaScore could be an indication of the split). Sporting a running time of two hours and 59 minutes, Wolf marks Scorsese's longest film by a minute, topping Casino.

Wolf of Wall Street is expected to earn at least $30 million between Wednesday and Sunday, putting it on course to earn upward of $100 million domestically and ahead of the openings of 47 Ronin and the four other films likewise opening Christmas Day: Ben Stiller's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the Sylvester Stallone-Robert De Niro comedy Grudge Match, Justin Bieber's concert doc Believe and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Starring Idris Elba as the iconic civil-rights leader, the biopic opened earlier this month in New York and Los Angeles on the eve of Nelson Mandela's death.

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Desolation of Smaug, which has now earned $149.9 million domestically, is likely to lead the five-day stretch overall, while Paramount's Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues also is showing strong legs. It placed No. 3 on Wednesday with $8.1 million for a domestic total of $56.7 million.

Mitty, from 20th Century Fox and costing $91 million to make, is doing better than expected and placed No. 4 on Christmas Day with $7.8 million.

Directed by and starring Stiller, and also starring Kristen Wiig and Sean PennMitty is attracting families because of its friendly PG rating. Warners insiders are likewise hopeful that Grudge Match will play across generations. Grudge Match trailed the pack on Christmas Day, however, with a projected $4 million gross, putting it at No. 9. Both films received B+ CinemaScores.

Sony's holdover American Hustle came in No. 5 with $7.4 million for a total of $34.1 million.

Despite Bieber's ardent fan base, Believe could prove a disappointment. The concert biopic, costing at least $5 million to make, came in No. 14 on Wednesday with an opening day take of $1.3 million. Open Road Films is launching the film in just over 1,000 theaters and kept its marketing spend to a modest $5 million.

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