Box office preview: Will 'The Hobbit' desolate the competition?

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Image Credit: Mark Pokornoy

Last weekend, the box office was as Frozen as the weather. Disney’s animated musical climbed past Catching Fire to reach the number one spot, but dragon’s breath will melt its throne when The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug arrives in theaters — and don’t count out Tyler Perry’s latest Madea movie, either. Overall, this weekend should be a pretty big frame for the four movies on top of the box office. Here’s how it might shake out:

1. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – $77 million
Last year’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey pulled in a strong $84.6 million on opening weekend en route to a $303 million domestic finish and $1 billion worldwide. The film was received moderately well, but audiences weren’t in love with the candy-coated adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous Lord of the Rings prequel. Still, fans of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth adventures are pretty committed at this point (the four films have earned over $3.9 billion worldwide), and although Smaug may open a shade below its predecessor, it’s still headed for a massive opening. Warner Bros., which co-financed the film with MGM for a reported $225 million, has smartly emphasized Evangeline Lilly and Orlando Bloom in marketing materials in order to differentiate it from the first film, which mainly focused on bearded dwarves and Martin Freeman’s titular character. Out in 3,903 theaters, Expect Smaug to drum up about $75-80 million this weekend.

2. Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas – $30 million
Never underestimate the drawing power of Tyler Perry’s hugely popular Madea character. The gun-toting grandma, played by Perry in drag, has become a perennial box-office force. The first five Madea films cost an average of $14.8 million to make and grossed an average of $64.3 million. That’s a major return on investment that has given Perry’s name considerable power, and as such, A Madea Christmas comes with a slightly higher-than-regular price tag of about $25 million. Fortunately, the film should earn at least that much this weekend. Madea’s Witness Protection managed a $25.3 million start in June 2012, but given the new entry’s holiday theme and its proximity to Christmas — and surging advance ticket sales — it will likely climb closer to $30 million.

3. Frozen – $23 million
Though The Hobbit will provide some competition for families, Frozen remains the one obvious choice for young kids and their parents. A drop of about 25-30 percent would give Frozen another $23 million and an excellent $165 million total.

4. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – $14.5 million
The Hobbit will likely cause more pain to Catching Fire, which could drop by about 45 percent to $15 million. The blockbuster will have accrued nearly $360 million by Sunday.

5. Thor: The Dark World – $2.5 million
Due to a complete lack of formidable foes, Disney’s superhero sequel may hammer up another Top 5 finish, even if it drops by almost 50 percent.

Two buzzy awards contenders also open this weekend: American Hustle in four theaters and Saving Mr. Banks in sixteen. Expect big per-theater averages for both.

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