Box Office: Led by 'Hobbit 2,' Christmas Rings Out Record Year

Thanks to a strong Christmas season, Hollywood is safe to begin celebrating a record year at the North American box office. With two days left to go, revenue will match 2012's record $10.8 billion sometime on Sunday, putting the final tally for the year in the $10.9 billion range.

Dominating the post-holiday weekend were a trio of all-audience offerings: Warner Bros.' The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Disney's runaway family hit Frozen and Will Ferrell comedy Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. The three holdovers beat out six new films opening nationwide on Christmas Day, including three that quickly bombed -- Universal's pricey 47 Ronin, WB's Sylvester Stallone-Robert De Niro comedy Grudge Match and Justin Bieber documentary Believe. But even with those films dragging down the bottom line, the weekend was still up 10 percent over last year.

As expected, Desolation of Smaug placed No. 1 for the third weekend in a row with $29.9 million, pushing its domestic total to $190.3 million. The tentpole also ruled internationally, taking in another $98.3 million to soar past the $600 million mark worldwide. Smaug has now grossed $423.8 million offshore for a global total of $614.1 million.

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Disney's unstoppable Frozen wasn't far behind Desolation of Smaug in grossing $28.8 million domestically -- the second best showing of all time for a film in its sixth weekend after Avatar ($34.9 million) and besting Titanic ($25.2 million).

The animated tentpole, perhaps the biggest surprise of the year-end holidays, has now earned $248.3 million in North America, pointing to the immense staying power a family film can enjoy and becoming Disney's most successful title domestically after The Lion King. It also underscores a dearth of family product (Walking With Dinosaurs was the only new family offering of the Christmas season, but it quickly became extinct, earning just $20.8 million to date).

Overseas, Frozen also placed No. 2 for the weekend, grossing a strong $50.5 million for a foreign total of $243.5 million and global haul of $491.9 million.

Coming in No. 3 domestically, Paramount's Anchorman 2 took in $20.2 million in its second weekend for a domestic total of $83.7 million, just shy of the $85.3 million earned all in by Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy. The sequel has crossed the $100 million mark globally, thanks to an early foreign total of $24.5 million -- compared to a lifetime foreign gross of $5.1 million for the first film.

After that, a crowded crop of Christmas offerings vying for adults and awards attention duked it out for their place on the top 10 chart. Martin Scorsese's R-rated, sex-laced The Wolf of Wall Street, among the films launching nationwide Dec. 25, was narrowly beat by David O. Russell's holdover American Hustle for the weekend (both are critical and award darlings).

American Hustle placed No. 4 for the weekend with $19.6 million to cross the $60 million mark domestically for Sony. Although likewise rated R, Russell's film is playing to more mainstream audiences.

Wolf of Wall Street followed at No. 5 with weekend earnings of $18.5 million, putting its five-day debut at a strong $34.3 million. Red Granite fully financed the $100 million-plus film, with Paramount handling marketing and distribution.

Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Wall Street bad boy Jordan Belfort, barely received an R rating (Scorsese agreed to trim certain sex scenes in order to avoid getting slapped with an NC-17). The movie is indeed proving to be polarizing, evidenced by its C CinemaScore, and is doing best on the two coasts. Boasting a running time of two hours and 59 minutes, Wolf marks Scorsese's longest film by a minute, topping Casino. The film skewed male (54 percent), while 90 percent of the audience was over the age of 25.

Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore agrees Wolf is polarizing. "Even though it has made many top 10 lists and received nominations by numerous organizations, there are some people who take issue with the subject matter. It is a provocative film, leading to lots of conversation and debate, which is good for word of mouth," Moore said.

20th Century Fox's Christmas Day entry The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, directed by and starring Ben Stiller, was likewise narrowly beat on its first weekend by a holdover, Disney's Saving Mr. Banks.

Starring Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers, Saving Mr. Banks was up an astonishing 50 percent in its second weekend of nationwide play, grossing $14 million for a domestic total of $37.8 million and coming in No. 6 (Frozen was up 45 percent). The movie is benefiting greatly from appealing to women, since many of the other holiday titles are playing more to males.

Banks' hold is sure to be a boost for its awards campaign. Overseas, it has earned $6 million to date, much of it from the U.K., where Travers lived.

Secret Life of Walter Mitty, costing $91 million to make, placed No. 7 with $13 million for a five-day debut of $25.6 million. Fox believes the movie will be a strong contender throughout January because of its family friendly PG rating. Overseas, Mitty opened to $27.2 million from 39 markets, led by Italy ($5 million) and the U.K. ($3.8 million).

Universal's ill-fated 47 Ronin eked out a 9th place finish with $9.9 million for a sobering five-day debut of $20.6 million, far from enough considering the film's $175 million budget. Nor is the Keanu Reeves samurai epic, co-financed by Universal and Elliott, faring well internationally so far, where it has earned $13.8 million from 29 markets. Domestically, males made up 62 percent of the audience. Hispanics represented 33 percent of ticket buyers, followed by Caucasians (28) percent and Asians (19 percent).

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Universal, which is otherwise celebrating its best year in history, has known the film was troubled financially for quite some time and says it has already accounted for a  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 issued last week.

Added Universal distribution chief Nikki Rocco on Sunday: "We never set out to make a film that we think won't work. When we gave it the greenlight years ago, we thought we had discovered a new franchise."

Warner Bros.' $40 million Grudge Match, about two aging boxers who reunite for one last bout, opened outside the top 10, coming in No. 11 for the weekend with $7.3 million, putting its five-day debut at a troubled $13.4 million. The movie, certain to lose money, skewed male (55 percent), with 68 percent of those buying tickets over the age of 25.

"Sometimes a film just doesn't resonate," said WB executive vice president of domestic distribution Jeff Goldstein. "The strategy of opening when we did was a good one, and the cast worked hard to promote the film. The audiences just didn't find it, or weren't interested." 

Bieber's Believe fared even worse, coming in No. 14 with an estimated $2 million. The concert documentary took in just $4.3 million in its five-day debut, a fraction of the $29.5 million opening of his last film, Never Say Never. While Believe is playing in far fewer theaters than Never Say Never (1,037 versus 3,000), it still vastly underperformed. Open Road Films is distributing and marketing Believe.

Moviegoing should remain strong throughout New Year's week and into next weekend.

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