Box Office: 'Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug' Wins Weekend With $73.7 Million in Domestic Debut

UPDATED: Disney's "Frozen" takes the No. 2 spot while "Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas" underperforms.

Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug roared to a strong $73.7 million in its domestic debut to take its place atop the weekend's box-office mountain.

Second place was a bit more unexpected as Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas did less business than the previous comedies starring Tyler Perry's zany elderly woman. Disney's Frozen, now in its third week, took in $22.2 million to take the No. 2 spot for the weekend ahead of A Madea Christmas' $16.16 million debut.

STORY: Inside 'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug' Premiere: Middle Earth Comes to Hollywood

Smaug, which received an A- Cinemascore, had the fourth-biggest December opening ever, behind An Unexpected Journey ($84.6 million), I Am Legend ($77.2 million) and Avatar ($77 million). It opened just ahead of Jackson's third Lord of the Rings film, The Return of the King, which earned $72.6 million in its debut in December 2003.

Smaug's U.S. weekend tally (which includes $9.1 million in Imax) is 13 percent behind last year's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. However, Smaug faced much more competition at the box office with strong holdovers Frozen and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, plus a major storm on the East Coast keeping some moviegoers at home. The second film is likely to continue to pick up steam as the holidays begin.

A New Line Cinema, MGM and Warner Bros. production, Smaug opened in 3,903 theaters with an audience comprised of 60 percent males and 40 percent females.

Based on J.R.R. Tolkien's 1937 fantasy novel, the adventure film follows hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as he travels with a group of dwarfs to face off against the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). Evangeline Lilly, Orlando Bloom, Lee Pace and Luke Evans co-star.

Despite a slower start, Smaug could still reach An Unexpected Journey's final $1 billion worldwide tally since it's likely to do big business overseas. The adventure film also is opening in 49 territories abroad this weekend, including eight of the top 12 markets (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the U.K., Mexico, Brazil and Korea).

Internationally, the film ranked No. 1 everywhere, grossing a phenomenal $131.2 million with 13.6 million admissions from approximately 16,000 screens in 49 markets. The film's worldwide total is $205 million after its first weekend.

In second place, animated family film Frozen held strong in its third week, adding $22.2 million to its domestic tally for a total of $164.4 million. Internationally, the musical film added $31.5 million this weekend (new territories include Russia, the Netherlands and Vietnam), for a worldwide total of $266 million.

A Madea Christmas, which received an A- Cinemascore, had the worst debut of any Madea film to date with $16.16 million. 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. Madea Christmas, which may do better business at the holidays kick off, is Lionsgate and Perry's eighth Madea film.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, now in its fourth week, grossed $13.15 million for the No. 4 spot. Its North American cume is now at $357 million. Internationally, the hit YA adaption grossed $19.5 million from 83 markets, taking the estimated overseas tally to $372.9 million. Its worlwide total is now at $739.9 million, surpassing the lifetime worldwide box office for the first film, The Hunger Games ($691 million).

Coming in at No. 5 is Thor: The Dark World, which is in its sixth week in theaters. The Disney and Marvel pic starring Chris Hemsworth earned $2.7 million domestically this weekend. It has a stellar domestic tally of  $198.1 million and has a worldwide gross of $619.9 million to date.

David O. Russell's American Hustle, which opened in six theaters, was extremely successful in limited release. The film took in a glitzy $690,000, for a per-location average of $115,000. The Columbia Pictures/Annapurna Pictures’ pic -- starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence -- expands wide next week to 2,500 locations.

Disney's Saving Mr. Banks also opened in limited release (16 venues) to earn $421,000. It expands next week.

Twitter: @Beccamford