Box-Office Preview: 'Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug' to Roar to $80 Million in U.S. Debut

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the second film in Peter Jackson's trilogy, roars into theaters this weekend, where it could earn around $80 million in its North American debut.

That total would put the film, opening in more than 3,900 theaters in the U.S., close to the tally earned by the first installment, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which opened the weekend of Dec. 14, 2012, to $84.6 million in the U.S.

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Smaug, from Warner Bros., New Line and MGM, continues to follow hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as he travels with the 13 dwarves to face off against the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom, Lee Pace and Luke Evans co-star.

Smaug comprised 88 percent of Movietickets.com's sales on Wednesday, Dec. 11, with six different options available for viewing: 2D, 3D, high frame rate 3D, IMAX 3D, high frame rate IMAX 3D and in a double feature with An Unexpected Journey.

Internationally, Smaug will open in 49 territories this weekend, including eight of the top 12 markets (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the U.K., Mexico, Brazil and Korea). The pic already opened in France on Wednesday, bringing in an estimated $2.8 million on 909 screens. (That's an 8 percent increase from An Unexpected Journey.)

In Sweden, the film earned $1.7 million on 431 screens, tracking 3 percent ahead of An Unexpected Journey. It grossed $1.1 million in Norway on 277 screens, $872,000 in Denmark on 181 screens, and $480,000 in Finland on 191 screens. The film had became Finland's best opening day of the year with an outstanding $619,000 on 172 screens.

Smaug will open in fewer territories day-and-date with the U.S. than An Unexpected Journey as Warner Bros. has chosen to push its release in Japan to late February and shifted a few Latin American markets one week closer to the Christmas holiday. The slower release abroad means that Smaug may not match the $139 million international debut of An Unexpected Journey, which went on to earn $1 billion worldwide in total.

This weekend's other new wide release is the holiday comedy Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas. Lionsgate is opening the film in 2,194 locations. It's tracking to earn around $20 million in its debut.

This is Lionsgate and Tyler Perry's eighth Madea film. The previous Madea film, Tyler Perry's Madea's Witness Protection, opened in June 2012 to the tune of $25.4 million. It went on to gross $65.7 million in the U.S.

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Smaug will top the weekend, but faces more competition at the U.S. box office than An Unexpected Journey did when it opened in 2012. Along with new entry A Madea Christmas, there are two strong holdovers -- Disney's animated pic Frozen and Lionsgate's hit The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which are in their third and fourth weeks, respectively. While they won't compete for the top spot, their combined pull is certain to be higher than the $7 million that Rise of the Guardians and Lincoln took in the week that An Unexpected Journey opened.

Opening in limited release this weekend are two awards hopefuls -- David O. Russell's '70s-set American Hustle and Saving Mr. Banks, starring Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson.

Sony's American Hustle, with an all-star cast including Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, is opening in six theaters in New York and L.A., and will expand in the coming weeks. The film tied for the most Golden Globes nominations on Thursday with seven.

Disney's Saving Mr. Banks, which follows Walt Disney's (Hanks) attempts to convince P.L. Travers (Thompson) to let him make her book Mary Poppins into a film, opens in 14 theaters this weekend. Thompson scored a Golden Globe nomination on Thursday for her role.

Additionally, Hours, the indie film starring the late Paul Walker and Genesis Rodriguez opens in 13 theaters in 16 locations and through VOD on Friday. Pantelion Films, the joint venture between Lionsgate and Mexican media corporation Grupo Televisa, decided to move forward with the film's planned release after the death of Walker in a car accident on Nov. 30.

Email: Rebecca.Ford@THR.com
Twitter: @Beccamford

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