"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug"

'Frozen,' 'American Hustle' jockey for third place domestically

In the lead-up to one of the busiest times at the box office, audiences certainly spread around the Christmas cheer this weekend, as Warner Bros.’ “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” continued its reign on top with an estimated $31.5 million Friday-Sunday, while Paramount’s new entry “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” followed with a solid $26.8 million in three days.

Paramount bowed “Anchorman 2″ midweek to give it a leg-up on the competition; pic has grossed $40 million since late night Tuesday.

The comedy sequel, which received a serviceable ‘B’ CinemaScore rating, had some B.O. observers predicting a slightly larger three-day gross in the low-$30 millions, though the crowded marketplace, added to the preoccupied nature of people around this time may have slowed the film down some. That said, films released at around Christmastime usually outperform their openings greater than any other time of year. A reasonable domestic outcome for “Anchorman 2″ would be around $125 million-plus, based on its three-day opening.

Internationally, “Anchorman 2,” with $13.4 million, already has more than doubled what the first film made overseas — and from just six territories. Not surprisingly, leading the charge were the U.K. and Australia (the comedy will have a tougher time expanding to non-English speaking countries).

“One of the biggest takeaways this weekend is how well the film performed internationally for a franchise which started with a (virtually) domestic-only release,” said Par vice chairman Rob Moore, who added that domestically, “the film is off to a great start with its core.”

Meanwhile, “The Hobbit” has cumed $127.5 million domestically, with a gross now north of $400 million worldwide.

“The Hobbit” fell just 57% in its second Stateside frame — just a touch more than its predecessor, which dropped 56% during its sophomore outing.

Wrestling for third place, Disney’s “Frozen,” with an estimated $19.2 million, secured a slight edge over Sony’s “American Hustle” in its first weekend of wide release, grossing $19.1 million through Sunday.

In five weeks, “Frozen” has amassed more than $191 million domestically, positioning it just below this year’s top 10 grossing films, with more than $344 million worldwide. “American Hustle,” on the other hand, reached north of $20 million Stateside; Sony has yet to begin the film’s overseas roll out.

Also expanding wide was Disney’s “Saving Mr. Banks,” which grossed a disappointing $9.3 million from 2,110 Stateside locations. The film’s modest nationwide expansion wasn’t altogether unexpected since “Banks” got off to a sluggish start last weekend in limited release. Disney hopes the film will become a larger choice for families next week given its ‘A’ CinemaScore, though “Banks” still will have to compete with Fox’s “Walking With Dinosaurs,” which started even more modestly this weekend (estimating $7.3 million).

And in limited release, Warner Bros.’ Spike Jonze-directed “Her” earned a decent-enough $42,969 per-screen average Friday-Sunday from six locations. By comparison, “American Hustle” — a much flashier film compared to “Her” — averaged more than $123,000 from six locations last weekend. Still, “Her” entered a highly crowded market and will build word-of-mouth through the holiday. Warners launched “Her” on Wednesday; pic averaged $60,246 in five days.

“Her,” which stars Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adam, Rooney Mara and Scarlett Johansson, has a buzzy fanbase on social media.  The film expands nationwide on Jan. 10.

Appealing to ravenous niche market, Bollywood film “Dhoom 3,” the third installment in that industry’s biggest action franchise, grossed $3.3 million from just 236 locations. Pic notched the largest Stateside opening for an Indian film, eclipsing “Chennai Express” last August (with $2.2 million).

SEE ALSO: ‘Dhoom 3′ Ignites Bollywood Boom at Stateside Box Office

The competitive holiday lead-in (as well as Christmas-on) means studios have been trying desperately to separate their films from the pack. Paramount mounted an aggressive social-media driven marketing campaign for the $50 million-budgeted “Anchorman 2″ using Will Ferrell’s Ron Burgundy character as the hook.

“Anchorman 2″ successfully attracted its core audience, but Par’s Moore said that the film still has room to grow with auds over 50, contributing just 11% of the gross this weekend.

“That’s an audience that we have available to us as we play through Christmas,” Moore noted.

For families, “Frozen” continues to be the first choice as evidenced by the film’s scant 15% drop this weekend. Warner Bros., meanwhile, has positioned “The Hobbit” as an option for families also. Fox’s “Walking With Dinosaurs” should leg out since family films typically see the greatest playability this time of year any way.

Domestic

Film (Weeks in release): 3-day gross*; Locations; Per-theater average; Cume*; Percentage change

  1. The Hobbit … Smaug (2): $31.5; 3,928; $8,008; $127.5; -57%
  2. Anchorman 2 (1): $26.8; 3,507; $7,635; $40.0; –
  3. Frozen (5): $19.2; 3,540; $5,413; $191.6; -15%
  4. American Hustle (2): $19.1; 2,507; $7,619; $20.2; +999%
  5. Saving Mr. Banks (2): $9.3; 2,110; $4,418; $9.9; +999%
  6. Hunger Games … Fire (5): $8.8; 2,949; $2,967; $372.0; -36%
  7. A Madea Christmas (2): $8.5; 2,194; $3,874; $28.0; -47%
  8. Walking With Dinosaurs (1): $7.3; 3,231; $2,259; $7.3; –
  9. Dhoom 3 (1): $3.3; 236; $14,004; $3.3; –
  10. Philomena (5): $1.2; 738; $1,660; $13.3; -33%

*in millions of $

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