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Shire fires up B.O. as ‘Hobbit’ hauls in $37.5 million on Friday

Biz looking closely at playability of various formats, including 48fps

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’s” rather expected journey to the top of the B.O. kicked off Friday with a $37.5 million haul from domestic engagements.

Figure includes $13 million from latenight Thursday showings and grosses from six different exhibition formats including 3D, Imax, 48fps and combinations thereof.

The one format B.O. insiders will be watching most closely is 48fps, as it’s backed not only by helmer Peter Jackson but also James Cameron and is making its debut with Warner Bros.’ Tolkien epic. Format reps 11% of the pic’s domestic playdates.

By midday Friday, handicappers estimated “Hobbit” would earn roughly $85 million this weekend — expecting it to shatter the record for December bows, but short of an earlier guess of $100 million. As of early Saturday, however, one source said the epic could land in the $100 million neighborhood, putting a nine-figure bow back on the table as a possibility.

The record for a December domestic bow is currently held by “I Am Legend” with $77.2 million. The international record is held by “Avatar” with $165.5 million, which “Hobbit” isn’t expected to beat.

With all eyes on “The Hobbit,” the rest of the pics in the marketplace are pacing well behind. The next closest pic, Disney’s “Lincoln,” earned $1.9 million on Friday for second.

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