Box office: ‘The Hobbit’ rules them all with $90.6 million

Moviegoers helped Peter Jackson bid farewell to Middle Earth in style, pushing “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” to $90.6 million over its first five days in theaters.

The franchise finale debuted Wednesday on 3,875 locations and easily trumped tracking which had predicted a debut in the $70 million range. For its inaugural weekend, the fantasy adventure earned $56.2 million.

“There have been six visits to Middle Earth and this is the final one and it became so important for people to come out to this in a big way,” said Jeff Goldstein, Warner Bros. distribution executive vice president. “The action was there and Peter made a fabulous movie.”

This “Hobbit” faced stiffer competition than the previous installments in the form of two major family releases, “Annie” and “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb.” Previous Jackson films, such as “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and “The Desolation of Smaug,” more or less had their opening weekends to themselves.

The latest “Night at the Museum” seemed to suffer the most from all the activity, pulling in a modest $17.3 million from 3,785 theaters. That was substantially below estimates that were in the $26 million range. It also trails previous entries in the family series. The first “Night at the Museum” bowed to $30.4 million in 2006 and “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian: premiered to $54.2 million in 2009.

Twentieth Century Fox, which backed the $127 million production, will have to hope that families turn out in force over the holidays and that the franchise’s core audience didn’t age out of the series during the five year gap between sequels.

“Annie” brought in $16.3 million, a hair above prerelease tracking the projected a debut of $15 million. It’s a welcome bit of good news for Sony Pictures, the studio behind the $65 million production. Sony has been brought to its knees in recent weeks by hackers linked to North Korea, forcing the cancelation of its other big Christmas release, “The Interview.”

“Annie” was originally supposed to debut on Christmas, but Sony moved up its debut.

“It was bold to go into this territory with ‘Night at the Museum’ and ‘The Hobbit,’ but there’s something special about ‘Annie,'” said Rory Bruer, Sony Pictures president of worldwide distribution. “We knew the picture itself would be the best marketing told and we think that the word-of-mouth is going to spread.”

The musical remake earned an A minus CinemaScore, and played well with families, who made up 76% of the audience, and females, who comprised 70% of the opening crowd.

“Five Armies” did impressive business, but it could not match the sendoff given to Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” wrap-up, “The Return of the King,” which made $124 million in 2003 during its first five days at the box office.

Comparisons with the first two “Hobbit” films are difficult because they opened on Friday while the latest chapter bowed at mid-week. “An Unexpected Journey” kicked off with $84.6 million, while “The Desolation of Smaug” debuted to $73.6 million. New Line teamed with MGM to finance the $700 million “Hobbit” trilogy.

Globally, the series remains a monster, crossing the $200 million mark worldwide on Saturday. It should end its first weekend with around $300 million in global ticket sales.

Last weekend’s champ, “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” fell sharply in its second frame, plunging more than 65% to $8.1 million. The $140 million production has made $38.7 million since it debuted.

Click here to read more in Variety.