New York — On a busy pre-Christmas weekend at the box office, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug held off a very different sequel, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.
Peter Jackson's Hobbit sequel took in $31.5m in its second weekend of release for Warner Bros., according to studio estimates Sunday. Though the film isn't matching the pace of the first Hobbit movie, An Unexpected Journey,The Desolation of Smaug is doing well abroad. It's now made more than $400m worldwide, including $96m internationally over the weekend.
The Hobbit topped Will Ferrell's Anchorman sequel, which nevertheless opened strongly in second place. The Paramount Pictures comedy made $26.8m over the three-day weekend and $40m since opening Tuesday night.
The much-marketed Anchorman 2 actually outperformed The Hobbit (which has now passed $300m worldwide) on Friday, but failed to best it over Saturday and Sunday. But the $50m comedy, which Paramount initially turned down, also suggested it will be more popular abroad than most comedies. It made $13.4m in six international markets.
The 2004 original opened with $28.4m, but only grossed $5.3m internationally.
Anchorman will have a much larger footprint internationally than the last 'Anchorman' did," said Don Harris, head of domestic distribution for Paramount. "Will Ferrell has done a really good job of turning this character into something that travels around the world."
David O. Russell's fictionalization of the 1970s Abscam political corruption investigation American Hustle earned a robust $19.1 million in its first week of nationwide expansion. The Sony Pictures film, starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, got a boost from its co-leading seven Golden Globes nominations.
"It's such a crowd-pleaser as well as a critical hit," said Sony's distribution head Rory Bruer. "We have so much more to look forward to, including Christmas Day."
A crowded Christmas day at the movies
The pre-Christmas weekend is a sought-after release date, one that usually offers films especially good legs at the box office as moviegoers flood theaters over the coming weeks. The weekend box office was up nearly 30% over the same weekend last year.
But this year's holiday frame will be particularly competitive. The crowded field of movie openings Wednesday includes Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street, Ben Stiller's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone comedy Grudge Match, the Justin Bieber documentary "Justin Bieber's Believe" and Keanu Reeves' 47 Ronin.
"It is going to be one heck of a crowded Christmas Day at the movie theater," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for box-office tracker Rentrak. "This is setting up to be perhaps one of the biggest Christmas Days ever."
One obvious casualty from the many options at the multiplexes was 20th Century Fox's Walking With Dinosaurs, a 3-D attraction that hoped to draw moviegoers with digital dinosaurs. Made for $85 million, it fell flat with just $7.3 million over the weekend.
Frozen hanging on strong
The family market has instead been cornered by Disney's animated Frozen, which added $19.2 million over the weekend. In five weeks of release, it's made $344 million worldwide.
The other Oscar-hopeful that went wide over the weekend was Disney's making-of Mary Poppins tale Saving Mr. Banks. The film, starring Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks, made $9.3 million.
Spike Jonze's acclaimed futuristic romance Her, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlet Johansson, opened in limited release. It took in $361,000 over five days in three cities, good for a $60,000 screen average.
The third film in the Indian action series, Dhoom 3, set a record for a North America debut for a Bollywood export. The film made $3.3 million, good enough for ninth place at the box office.
Despite some high-profile summer bombs, the 2013 box office is on track to narrowly surpass last year's record box office of $10.8 billion, with one weekend to go in the year.