Credit: Warner Bros.

Sure, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey set a December record last weekend when it opened with $84.5 million, but after eight days in theaters, it’s now clear that the Lord of the Rings prequel is running well behind the final LOTR film, The Return of the King, which earned $377.8 in 2003 — without 3D and IMAX surcharges.

The Hobbit dropped by a huge 73 percent from its first Friday to $10.2 million yesterday, which puts it on pace for a $33 million weekend. That would give The Hobbit a running total of about $147 million by Sunday, its tenth day of release. The Return of the King had earned $190.8 million after 10 days in theaters, and it was only about halfway to its final total, but The Hobbit is falling much faster, and it will need to hold up remarkably well over the holiday to have a shot at $300 million domestically.

In second place, Paramount’s $60 million thriller Jack Reacher led all of the week’s new releases with $5.1 million. The Tom Cruise thriller may take in about $15 million over the full frame, which isn’t great, but the film will have ample chance to make up ground over the lucrative holiday period between Christmas and New Year’s.

Judd Apatow’s latest comedy, This is 40, fared less well. The $35 million Universal film, which stars Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, earned $3.7 million on Friday, and it’s headed to a meh $11.5 million for the weekend. This is 40 will thus mark Paul Rudd’s fourth straight disappointing debut following How Do You Know, which started with $7.5 million on the way to $30.2 million in 2010, Our Idiot Brother, which found just $7.0 million on the way to $24.8 million in 2011, and Wanderlust, which earned $6.5 million on the way to $17.3 million earlier this year. Fortunately, This is 40 will have more opportunity to thrive than those films, as comedies can quietly accumulate lots of cash at this time of year. Just look at Jim Carrey’s Yes Man, which garnered an underwhelming $18.3 million debut but ultimately managed a $97.7 million finish.

Rise of the Guardians stuck around in fourth place with $1.6 million, actually increasing from the $1.5 million it took in last Friday thanks to building excitement for Christmas. Rise may gross about $7.2 million this weekend, but once Christmas passes, I’d bet that its theater count (which is, remarkably, still above 3,000) will disintegrate.

The Guilt Trip rounded out the Top 5 with a weak $1.5 million. The $40 million Barbra Streisand/Seth Rogen road trip comedy will have to settle for only $5 million in its debut. It’s likely that the film will get passed by Disney’s Monsters Inc. 3D, which earned $1.4 million Friday, but should get a family-friendly boost over the rest of the weekend and take in nearly $6 million over the Friday-to-Sunday period. Disney has seen diminishing returns with every subsequent 3D re-release since The Lion King 3D’s $94.1 million run last year. Beauty and the Beast 3D found $47.6 million in Feburary. Finding Nemo 3D swam away with $40.9 million in September. Monsters Inc. 3D should finish below both of those.

Way back in tenth place was Paramount’s (yep, the studio released a lot of movies this weekend) Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away, which started with an unremarkable $802,000 on its first day in 800 theaters. The performance film cost Paramount just under $20 million.

1. The Hobbit – $10.2 million

2. Jack Reacher – $5.2 million

3. This is 40 – $3.7 million

4. Rise of the Guardians – $1.6 million

5. The Guilt Trip – $1.5 million

6. Lincoln – $1.4 million

7. Monsters Inc. 3D – $1.4 million

8. Skyfall – $1.3 million

9. Life of Pi – $1.0 million

10. Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away – $802,000

In limited release, Zero Dark Thirty got off to a scorching start with $115,000 from 5 theaters, yielding a per theater average of $23,000, while The Impossible proved much weaker, with only $37,700 from 15 theaters, good for a $2,513 average. Guess which one merits further expansion?

Check back tomorrow — and throughout the holiday week — for more box office updates, and follow me on Twitter for more box office musing.

This Is 40
  • Movie
  • 134 minutes