By Grady Smith
December 14, 2013 at 06:39 PM EST
Warner Bros.

Peter Jackson’s latest journey to Middle-Earth may be less golden than originally expected. On its first day at the box office, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug got off to a weaker start than The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey did last year, though it still earned more than enough to top the chart. Smaug grossed $31.1 million, down 17 percent from the $37.1 million Friday that An Unexpected Journey managed, and it’s headed for a debut weekend of about $72 million. That would mark a substantial drop from its predecessor’s $84.6 million bow, but Smaug‘s more positive critical reception might indicate box office endurance in the weeks to come.

In second place, Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas unwrapped a shockingly low $5.7 million, putting the film on pace for a franchise-worst $15 million debut. Lionsgate’s $25 million sequel was tracking ahead of 2012’s Madea’s Witness Protection, which opened to $25.1 million, so it is rather befuddling that the comedy opened so poorly on Friday. Perhaps audiences are just tiring of the gun-packing granny.

Frozen held up nicely in third place, scoring $5 million. The Disney film will easily surpass Madea by the end of the weekend thanks to strong matinee shows on Saturday and Sunday, and it may finish the weekend with about $23 million.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire also remained healthy. The blockbuster found $4.1 million on its fourth Friday, setting it up for a $14 million weekend — and $358 million total. Thor: The Dark World lagged way behind in fifth place with $796,000, setting it up for a $2.8 million weekend.

1. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – $31.1 million

2. A Madea Christmas – $5.7 million

3. Frozen – $5.0 million

4. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – $4.1 million

5. Thor: The Dark World – $0.8 million

In limited release, American Hustle pulled in $211,000 from six theaters, yielding a scorching $35,167 one-day per-theater average. That was far more impressive than Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks, which took in $126,000 in 15 theaters for a merely solid $8,400 location average.

Check back tomorrow for the full box office report.