First the (domestic) good news for distributor Warner Bros. and producing companies Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, New Line Cinema, and WingNut Films: The Hobbit 2 aka The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the second movie in Peter Jackson's $567 million-budgeted* The Hobbit trilogy, opened Friday, December 13, 2013, with an estimated $31.14 million from 3,903 North American venues, including $8.8 million from Thursday midnight shows. That likely means that the sequel to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will have earned more than $70 million in the U.S. and Canada by Sunday evening. Early Friday estimates indicated that The Hobbit 2 would debut below the $70 million mark at the domestic box office.
Now, The Hobbit 2 bad news: A year ago, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opened with a -- relatively speaking -- disappointing $84.61 million at 4,045 theaters. Even if it reaches $75 million, which is certainly a possibility if there's a major Saturday and Sunday surge, The Hobbit 2 will still lag behind its predecessor by approximately 11 percent. If it grosses $70 million, the Hobbit sequel will have opened about 17 percent below the first movie. (Update: The Hobbit 2 opened with an estimated $73.67 million.)
That's surely not the sort of opening to bring holiday cheer to the hearts of studio executives; sequels, after all, are supposed to perform (way) better than the original film. Especially when we're talking about movies that cost on average close to $200 million each, in addition to another $100 million or so in marketing and distribution costs.
More (potentially) good news: The Christmas and New Year's holidays helped to keep the first Hobbit movie afloat at the domestic box office; ultimately, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey cumed at $303 million in North America -- in addition to an excellent $714 million internationally. (Northern European countries were particularly profitable.)
More The Hobbit 2 good news: Internationally, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has already brought in an estimated $53.35 million; it's reportedly slightly ahead of its predecessor.
Official weekend box office estimates come out on Sunday morning. Box office actuals will be released on Monday. The third and final The Hobbit movie, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, opens in December 2014.
'The Hobbit 2' cast
The Hobbit 2's extensive cast includes the following: two-time Academy Award nominee Ian McKellen (Bill Condon's Gods and Monsters, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring), Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Best Supporting Actress Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett (for playing Katharine Hepburn in Martin Scorsese's The Aviator) -- who will surely receive another Oscar nomination early next year for Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine.
In addition to: Mikael Persbrandt, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, Billy Connolly, Academy Award nominee Ian Holm (Chariots of Fire), veteran Christopher Lee (Dracula, The Wicker Man), Andy Serkis (King Kong, The Lord of the Rings movies), Hugo Weaving, and William Kircher.
Plus: James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O'Gorman, Aidan Turner, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Adam Brown, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, John Bell, Sylvester McCoy, and Jeffrey Thomas.
* Shot concurrently, the Hobbit trilogy cost a reported $676 million New Zealand dollars or US$567 million (October 2013 exchange rates). That means each The Hobbit movie cost circa $187 million, not including marketing and distribution expenses that could easily top $100 million per film.
Orlando Bloom as Legolas in The Hobbit 2 image: Warner Bros.