The Middle Earth send-off held its ground, securing the top spot on the charts for a third consecutive weekend. The New Line and MGM co-production picked up $21.9 million, driving its domestic total to $220.8 million.
It was a robust start to 2015 and ends the winter holidays on a high note. The post-New Year box office was up 9.7% over the year-ago period. The strong ticket sales come after a disappointing year at the multiplexes — ticket sales plunged 5.2% in 2014 while attendance hit a two-decade low.
“It always comes down to options and the type of films that are out there, and this holiday season has been perfectly programmed,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak.
In this case, there have been plenty of family offerings and a robust slate of adult dramas to appeal to all quadrants.
To retain its crown, “The Hobbit” had to contend with two resilient Christmas holdovers in “Unbroken” and “Into the Woods” and the surprising strength of horror sequel “Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death.” The holiday hits were in a dead heat for second place, with “Into the Woods” retaining a slight edge in the initial estimates. The musical is expected to make $91.1 million, bringing its domestic haul to $91.2 million.
“Unbroken” was right behind, capturing third place with $18.4 million. The survival drama’s Stateside total stands at $87.8 million.
“Woman in Black 2,” a Relativity release, bested tracking, which had pegged an opening of between $9 million and $11 million. The film earned $15.1 million from 2,602 locations. “Woman in Black 2” was picked up by the studio for an economical $1 million.
The film appealed to women, African-American and Hispanic audiences. According to exit polls, 53% of the opening crowd was female, 25% was African American and 24% was Hispanic.
“It’s a terrific way to start the new year,” said Kyle Davies, president of worldwide distribution at Relativity.
“It played broadly,” he added. “The recent successful horror films have appealed to young females. There’s this preconceived notion that horror is always for young males.”
It’s a shot in the arm for Relativity, which has struggled at the box office of late, fielding disappointments such as “Beyond the Lights” and “The Best of Me.”
Family films took advantage of the New Year’s holiday and the number of children on school vacation, securing fifth and sixth place on the weekend chart. Fox’s “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” made $14.4 million, and has racked up $89.7 million domestically.
Meanwhile, Sony’s “Annie” dipped a modest 31%, earning $11.4 million and bringing its U.S. total to $72.6 million.
Coming in at number seven, ” The Imitation Game” made $8.1 million. The biopic about Alan Turing has netted $30.8 million after a month and half in theaters.
“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” has made just shy of $700 million globally, a benchmark it should cross next week. The hit sequel added $7.7 million to its pot this weekend in the U.S., good enough for an eighth place finish. Domestically, it has made $323.9 million so far.
Paramount’s “The Gambler” nabbed ninth place, earning $6.3 million. The Mark Wahlberg drama has made $27.6 million in two weeks of release.
More ink was probably spilled on “The Interview” than any other holiday release, but the controversial comedy that sparked an international incident with North Korea and a brutal hack attack fell in its second week. The film widened its footprint from 331 locations to 581 arthouses and independent theaters, but its gross fell from $1.8 million to $1.1 million.
In limited release, “American Sniper” brought in an impressive $640,000 from four theaters. In two weeks and in just a handful of locations, the Clint Eastwood drama has earned $2.2 million.
Fellow Oscar-bait “Selma” also scored in limited release, earning $645,000 from 22 locations. The civil rights movement drama has made $2.1 million since opening on Christmas. The two films are set to expand in the coming weeks and should perform well as critics groups hand out hardware and Academy Awards nominations are announced.
In other awards race news, “Wild” and “Birdman” both crossed the $25 million mark. “Wild” made $4.5 million from 1,361 locations, while “Birdman” generated $850,000 in 300 theaters.
Newcomer “A Most Violent Year” picked up $188,000 in its initial weekend in theaters. The crime drama had a per-screen average of $47,000 and debuted on four screens.
Last year was an erratic one at the box office. The first quarter started strong before summer ticket sales plummeted, creating a very deep hole for the industry. The hope this time around is for greater consistency.
“We don’t want to be on a roller coaster ride again,” said Dergarabedian. “We need a steady progression of solid box office.”