We already knew that The Hobbit earned a whopping $13.0 million during midnight showings, but over the course of its first full day in theaters the film took in an estimated $37.5 million, the highest gross ever for a December opening day.

The next best December bow was also of the Middle-earth variety — Lord of the Rings: Return of the King grossed $34.5 million on its opening day, a Wednesday, in 2003. Notably, The Hobbit sold fewer tickets on its opening day than Return of the King, but its gross was higher because of ticket price inflation and 3-D/IMAX surcharges. Still, huge is huge — and The Hobbit is headed for a mammoth debut.

The film should finish somewhere between $90 million (if it plays like a front-loaded fanboy flick, whose appeal doesn’t extend beyond the Tolkien faithful) and $110 million (if it can attract families on Saturday and Sunday). Either way, The Hobbit is set to replace I Am Legend‘s $77.2 million debut as the best December opening ever.

The rest of the chart was made up of holdovers. Lincoln and Skyfall both grossed $1.9 million on Friday and should finish just under $7 million during the Friday-to-Sunday period. Rise of the Guardians and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 each found an additional $1.5 million. Rise may gross about $6 million, while Twilight is eyeing a weekend closer to $5 million.

1. The Hobbit – $37.5 million

2. Lincoln – $1.9 million

3. Skyfall – $1.9 million

4. Rise of the Guardians – $1.5 million

5. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 – $1.5 million

Where do you think The Hobbit will finish the weekend? Check back tomorrow for the full box office report.

For more box office musing:

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  • Movie
  • 170 minutes