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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug' box office: Domestic midnight grosses far behind 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' opening last year

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the second movie in Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy, opened with a (relatively speaking) disappointing $8.8 million from Thursday midnight, December 12-13, 2013, shows in North America. For comparison's sake: At about this time last year, and in a similar number of theaters, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey debuted with a considerably more impressive $13 million. (See also: "'The Hobbit 2' weekend box office" [early estimates]. Image: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.)

As it stands, Peter Jackson's two Hobbit movies have had the biggest domestic December midnight openings ever. That sounds good, but how high will The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug go this weekend? Well, at this stage it seems that the Hobbit sequel will trail its predecessor in North America. Some have been predicting an opening around $75-80 million, but if Nikki Finke's early estimates are on target, Hobbit 2 will fail to reach that mark. Finke's sources have The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug pegged at somewhere between $70-72 million (upped from $65-$68 million a few hours ago) by Sunday – that would be quite a comedown. (Official Friday estimates come out Saturday morning.)

For the record, the $187 million-budgeted* The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opened domestically with $84.61 million – an impressive figure, even if way below the expectations of some box office observers. Luckily for distributor Warner Bros. (and producing companies Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, New Line Cinema, and WingNut Films), the Christmas and New Year's holidays kept the first Hobbit movie afloat; it eventually reached $303 million in the U.S. and Canada – in addition to a outstanding $714 million internationally. (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey performed particularly well in northern Europe.)

Internationally, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has already taken in an estimated $24 million. The third and final The Hobbit movie, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, opens in December 2014.

'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug' cast

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug's extensive cast includes: two-time Academy Award nominee Ian McKellen (Gods and Monsters, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring), Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett (for playing Katharine Hepburn in Martin Scorsese's The Aviator), Lee Pace, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mikael Persbrandt, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, Billy Connolly, Academy Award nominee Ian Holm (Chariots of Fire), Christopher Lee, Andy Serkis, and Hugo Weaving.

In addition to: William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O'Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Sylvester McCoy, Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, John Bell, and Jeffrey Thomas.

* Shot concurrently, Peter Jackson's three The Hobbit movies cost a reported $676 million New Zealand dollars (or US$567 million according to October 2013 exchange rates) – or about $187 million each, not including marketing and distribution costs that could easily reach another $100 million per film.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug image: Warner Bros.

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