THE HOBBIT has opened strongly in the United States, setting a December movie record with box office sales of US$84.77 million in its opening weekend.
Legions of fans turned out for the movie, directed by Oscar-winning New Zealander Sir Peter Jackson, who earlier made The Lord of the Rings.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first of three films based on the 1937 novel by J.R.R Tolkien.
The movie’s backer, Warner Bros, is looking to go better than LOTR, which pulled US$2.9 billion in global ticket sales.
Over its opening weekend in North America, receipts were stronger than for I Am Legends, which pulled US$77.2 million in 2007.
“The best we were hoping for was to reach or exceed the US$77 million set by that movie and we did it by quite a lot. It was all good and we’re very happy about it,” Dan Fellman, president of theatrical distribution for Warner Bros, told Reuters.
“You have to assume that by the time this first week is over we are going to have around US$110 million (NZ$130.16m) in the bank before the holiday even starts,” he added.
The Hobbit follows the exploits of Bilbo Baggins, played by Martin Freeman, as he travels through Middle Earth with a band of dwarfs to steal treasure.
The movie also stars Richard Armitage and Benedict Cumberbatch, while Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett and Elijah Wood reprise their “Rings” roles.
CinemaScore polled audiences, which gave it an A grade, while 65 percent of reviews on the Rotten Tomatoes website recommended it.
Some have objected to the use of the 48-frames-per-second format, up from 24, calling it cartoonish, while others said they felt nauseous.
The next two installments are scheduled for December 2013 and July 2014.