Tom Cruise's 'Reacher' leads newcomers with $15.6 mil

Holy Hobbit, it’s going to be a merry Christmas for the citizens of Middle Earth. Warner Bros.’ “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” claimed its second Stateside B.O. win in the run-up to Christmas with an estimated $36.7 million, down 57%, for a domestic cume of nearly $150 million.

Last weekend, the New Line-MGM co-production opened with a record-setting $84.6 million domestically. Films that hit those heights, frequently fall more than 60% in their second frames during non-holiday periods. And “The Hobbit” fell considerably more than any of the three “Lord of the Rings” pics. But those films bowed a week later than “The Hobbit,” meaning they played squarely over Christmas during their second frames, with smaller opening grosses, as well.

Internationally, “The Hobbit” held even better, down 42%, for an estimated $91 million weekend take. The film, which reached $284 million overseas, expanded to Russia this weekend, contributing $16.8 million — 75% of the local marketshare.

“The Hobbit” competed in a packed domestic frame this year, with nearly a dozen films opening Wednesday-Friday.

Paramount’s Tom Cruise actioner “Jack Reacher” led the newcomers, with an estimated $15.6 million in three days, followed by Universal’s Judd Apatow R-rated laffer “This Is 40,” which collected $12 million through Sunday.

Bowing Wednesday, Paramount’s “The Guilt Trip” — the studio’s second of four releases this weekend — earned $5.4 million in five days, with north of $7 million in five. Meanwhile, Disney’s 3D re-issue of Pixar toon, “Monsters, Inc.,” collected a projected three-day gross of $5 million, with $6.5 million from Wednesday to Sunday.

In limited release, Sony’s Kathryn Bigelow-Mark Boal collaboration “Zero Dark Thirty” averaged a fierce $82,000 from five coastal locations in three days. Pic launched Wednesday with a total $639,000 amid criticism from senators and others that film inaccurately depicted the methods used for finding Osama bin Laden. It’s just as likely that the publicity will help awareness for the film, rather than denting its credibility.

“It’s an incredible result,” said Sony distribution topper Rory Bruer. ” I think people are drawn to the film both by word-of-mouth and critical acclaim.”

Sony expands the film Jan. 4 to 11 markets before going wide the following weekend. Based on its opening success, the pic’s domestic outcome is likely to be comparable to “Black Hawk Down,” which cumed $108 million in 2001.

The weekend’s other wide-ish release, Par’s 3D spectacle “Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away,” at 840 locations, estimated $2.1 million from Friday to Sunday, for a $2.3 million domestic cume including Canadian previews.

For “Reacher,” Par anticipates a Stateside cume between $75 million and $100 million, though the studio says the pic’s international outcome should be 50%-100% greater than domestic. That’s based on how previous Cruise pics have played overseas vs. domestic, excluding the “Mission: Impossible” franchise.

The weekend perf for “Guilt Trip” disappointed. But Par marketing and distribution head Megan Colligan said that the pic’s core demo — adult women — are the most preoccupied with pre-holiday preparations, may turn out as the holiday winds down. The same could be said for “Cirque du Soleil,” which Colligan described as “destination filmgoing.” That pic scored an A- CinemaScore; teen auds gave it an A rating, however.

By comparison, “This Is 40″ received an overall B- grade, but U still anticipates the film to hit nine figures domestically. Like “Guilt Trip,” the U laffer played best with femmes over 30.

“We are very pleased with these results, especially considering the weekend prior to a midweek Christmas always is tough for adult fare given their holiday preoccupations,” said U domestic distribution prexy Nikki Rocco.

Three more films — “Django Unchained,” “Les Miserables” and “Parental Guidance” — open wide on Christmas day, along with the Weinstein Co.’s wide expansion of “Silver Linings Playbook.”

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