In a remarkably tight race, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug held onto its gold at the box office this weekend, earning $29.9 million over the three-day frame and taking the top spot. The fantasy epic’s domestic total is now $190.3 million after three weeks, a robust number that still trails last year’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which had already earned $221.6 million at the 17-day mark. Peter Jackson’s earlier Tolkien epic, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, had made a princely $290.4 million by its third weekend in 2003, headed toward a final gross of $377.8 in the states and $1.119 billion worldwide. Smaug looks likely to end up below Unexpected Journey‘s total haul of $303 million, whereas each of the Lord of the Rings films managed to outgross its predecessor. The Hobbit: There and Back Again, the trilogy’s final film, is slated for release on Dec. 17, 2014.
The prize for Most Improved this week goes to Frozen, which jumped a remarkable 46.9 percent in its sixth weekend — despite actually playing at 205 fewer theaters. Disney’s animated musical made $28.9 over the three-day weekend, raising its total to $248.4 million. It’s already the seventh highest-grossing film of 2013 and looks likely to overtake Gravity ($254.6 million) and Monsters University ($268.5 million) in the weeks to come. Disney’s last princess tale, 2010′s Tangled, had a similar box office bump in 2010, when it jumped 52.5 percent during the post-Christmas weekend, although the movie’s total at that point was just $167.8 million on its way to a $200 million cume.
In its second weekend, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues earned $20.2 million for a total $83.7 million. (Worldwide estimated gross for the $50 million comedy is $108.2 million.) That’s a slightly faster clip than the original Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, which had earned $57 million total by its second weekend in 2004. Its domestic total was $85 million — a number the sequel should surpass by midweek. Even more promising is the fact that the original Anchorman made just $5.3 million at the foreign box office, while Anchorman 2 has already earned $24.5 million.
Riding a wave of critical acclaim, American Hustle earned $19.6 million over the three-day weekend for a running total $60 million. The Weinstein Co. production has been in wide release for two weekends, following a debut weekend in limited. Last year’s Silver Linings Playbook — which was also directed by David O. Russell and costarred Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert DeNiro — didn’t really go wide until its 10th weekend. Thanks to huge critical kudos (including Lawrence’s Oscar win for Best Actress) that movie eventually grossed $132.1 million — a number that’s certainly in American Hustle‘s sights considering the film’s intense Oscar buzz and guaranteed exposure at the Golden Globes, where it’s nominated for seven awards, including Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy.
Making money might’ve been easy for Jordan Belfort, the wildly successful white collar criminal played by Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street. But his biopic is having a slightly tougher time. The Martin Scorsese drama, which cost just shy of $100 million to make, cashed in $18.5 million over the three-day weekend, bringing its five-day total to $34.3 million. Wolf predictably played to an older male audience, drawing a crowd that was 54 percent male and 90 percent over the age of 25. The movie’s box office future is uncertain: While its straight-C CinemaScore doesn’t imply good word-of-mouth, Wolf stands to get plenty of free publicity at upcoming awards events. (The movie has already garnered Golden Globe nominations for Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy and Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy). DiCaprio had much better luck at the holiday box office last year. Like Wolf, Django Unchained opened on Christmas Day. But the Tarantino film made $15 million on the 25th alone, and had racked up a solid $63.4 million tally by the end of the weekend. Earlier this year, the actor’s The Great Gatsby made $50.1 million in its opening weekend in May. And Scorsese and DiCaprio’s last pairing, Shutter Island, opened to $41.1 million in February of 2010.
1. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug - $29.9 million
2. Frozen - $28.9 million
3. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues – $20.2 million
4. American Hustle – $19.6 million
5. The Wolf of Wall Street – $18.5 million
Outside the top five, the weekend’s biggest story was Universal’s 47 Ronin, the long-delayed, $175 million Keanu Reeves samurai epic that grossed just $9.9 million over the three-day weekend, bringing its five-day total to $20.6 million. Universal has announced that it will take a write-down to absorb the movie’s failure, although the studio is still having its best year yet thanks to giant hits like Despicable Me 2, Fast & Furious 6, and Identity Thief. Ronin’s audience was 62 percent male, and the movie earned a not-bad B+ CinemaScore.
Fox’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, starring Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig, made $13 million this weekend at 2,909 theaters for a $25.6 million five-day gross. The movie reportedly cost $90 million and received a B+ CinemaScore.
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom added 971 theaters in its fifth weekend, boosting the movie to a $2.4 million weekend and a $4.7 million total.
In the big-screen showdown between Robert DeNiro and Sylvester Stallone, the loser was…. their movie Grudge Match, which took in just $7.3 million this weekend for a $13.44 million total.
But the weekend’s lowest scoring wide-release belonged to Justin Bieber, whose concert doc Believe took in a mere $2 million. The film’s reported budget is only $5 million, so that’s not a huge loss — although it pales in comparison to the $29.5 million debut of Bieber’s last pic, 2011′s Never Say Never.
The weekend also had a few notable specialty releases, including the Meryl Streep-Julia Roberts dramedy August: Osage County, which took in $179,500 from five theaters for a healthy per-screen average of $35,900.
Universal’s military thriller Lone Survivor, starring Mark Wahlberg and Taylor Kitsch, earned $92,000 from two theaters in a qualifying run, leading up to a planned nationwide expansion on Jan. 10.