The Hobbit beats off Tom Cruise
Los Angeles - Tiny hobbit Bilbo Baggins is running circles around some of the biggest names in Hollywood.
Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey took in $36.7m to remain No 1 at the box office for the second-straight weekend, easily beating a rush of top-name holiday newcomers.
Part one of Jackson's prelude to his The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Warner Bros release raised its domestic total to $149.9m after 10 days. The film added $91m overseas to bring its international total to $284m and its worldwide haul to $434m.
The Hobbit took a steep 57% drop from its domestic $84.6m opening weekend, but business was soft in general as many people skipped movies in favour of last-minute Christmas preparations.
Domestic business off
"The real winner this weekend might be holiday shopping," said Paul Dergarabedian, an analyst for box-office tracker Hollywood.com.
Tom Cruise's action thriller Jack Reacher debuted in second-place with a modest $15.6m debut, according to studio estimates Sunday. Based on the Lee Child best-seller One Shot, the Paramount Pictures release stars Cruise as a lone-wolf ex-military investigator tracking a sniper conspiracy.
Opening at No 3 with $12m was Judd Apatow's marital comedy This Is 40, a Universal Pictures film featuring Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann reprising their roles from the director's 2007 hit Knocked Up.
Paramount's road-trip romp The Guilt Trip, featuring Knocked Up star Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand, debuted weakly at No 6 with $5.4m over the weekend and $7.4m since it opened on Wednesday. Playing in narrower release, Paramount's acrobatic fantasy Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away debuted at No 11 with $2.1m.
A 3D version of Disney's 2001 animated blockbuster Monsters, Inc. also had a modest start at No 7 with $5m over the weekend and $6.5m since opening on Wednesday.
Domestic business was off for the first time in nearly two months. Overall revenues totaled $112m, down 12.6% from the same weekend last year, when Cruise's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol debuted with $29.6m, according to Hollywood.com.
Cruise's Jack Reacher opened at barely half the level as Ghost Protocol, but with a $60m budget, the new flick cost about $100m less to make.
'I saw dollar signs'
Starting on Christmas, Hollywood expects a big week of movie-going with schools out through New Year's Day and many adults taking time off. So Paramount and other studios are counting on strong business for films that started slowly this weekend.
"Jack Reacher will end up in a very good place. The movie will be profitable for Paramount," said Don Harris, the studio's head of distribution. "The first time I saw the movie I saw dollar signs. It certainly wasn't intended to be compared to a Mission: Impossible, though."
Likewise, Warner Bros is looking for steady crowds for The Hobbit over the next week, despite the debut of two huge newcomers — the musical Les Miserables and the Quentin Tarantino action movie Django Unchained — on Christmas Day.
"We haven't reached the key holiday play time yet," said Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner. "It explodes on Tuesday and goes right through the end of the year."
In limited release, Kathryn Bigelow's Osama bin Laden manhunt saga Zero Dark Thirty played to packed houses with $410 000 in just five theatres, averaging a huge $82 000 a cinema.
That compares to a $4 654 average in 3 352 theatres for Jack Reacher and a $4 130 average in 2 913 cinemas for This Is 40. The Guilt Trip averaged $2 217 in 2 431 locations, and Monsters, Inc. averaged $1 925 in 2 618 cinemas. Playing just one matinee and one evening show a day at 840 theatres, Cirque du Soleil averaged $2 542.
Since opening on Wednesday, Zero Dark Thirty has taken in $639 000. Distributor Sony plans to expand the acclaimed film to nationwide release on 11 January, amid film honours and nominations leading up to the 24 February Academy Awards.
Opening in 15 theatres from Lionsgate banner Summit Entertainment, Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor's tsunami-survival drama The Impossible took in $138 750 for an average of $9 250.
A fourth new release from Paramount, The Sopranos creator David Chase's 1960s rock 'n roll tale Not Fade Away, debuted with $19 000 in three theatres, averaging $6 333.
Universal's Les Miserables got a head-start on its domestic release with a $4.2m debut in Japan.