‘Smaug’ Soars, ‘Madea’ Stumbles At Box Office

'Hobbit' sequel has #1 debut while 'Christmas' has worst 'Madea' opening.

Smaug may live in a place called The Lonely Mountain, but the centuries-old dragon now has $73.6 million to keep him company.

Not that he needed it, of course. One of the last remaining great dragons found in J.R.R. Tolkein’s Middle Earth during the events of “The Hobbit,” Smaug possesses a large treasure amassed from terrorizing dwarves and such centuries before. He’s voiced in Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” prequel trilogy by Benedict Cumberbatch, who of course was the villain in “Star Trek Into Darkness” earlier this year.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” didn’t quite catch up to the $84.6 million grabbed by “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” this time last year, despite the beefed up role for Orlando Bloom’s Legalos, the inclusion of a not-from-the-book elfin warrior played by Evangeline Lilly and that big, winged reptilian baddie the world first saw on the side of an Air New Zealand plane. Nevertheless, “Smaug” had the fourth biggest December opening ever, behind “An Unexpected Journey,” Will Smith’s “I Am Legend” and the biggest movie of all time, “Avatar.”

Learn How ‘Desolation Of Smaug’ Saved ‘The Hobbit.’

Unfortunately for Tyler Perry, “A Madea Christmas” set the bad kind of record over the weekend. The $16.2 million collected by Perry’s latest comedy was less than any other “Madea” opening weekend thus far, including last year’s “Madea’s Witness Protection.” By comparison, “Madea Goes to Jail” had the biggest opening weekend for a “Madea” film with its $41 million opening in February, 2009. However as many box-office observers noted throughout the weekend, “A Madea Christmas” could prove to have legs as Christmas gets closer.

Former box-office champ “Frozen” settled for the runner-up position with $22 million over its third weekend in theaters. The well-reviewed Disney Animation hit has earned $164.4 million thus far, which is roughly $50 million more than the Mouse House’s “Tangled” at the same point during its theatrical run. With another $101 million in foreign receipts, “Frozen” has more than earned its $150 million budget.

Speaking of Disney, Oscar hopeful “Saving Mr. Banks” made $421,000 in 15 theaters over the weekend. Emma Thompson garnered a Golden Globe nomination last week for her portrayal of “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers, who gives Tom Hanks (as Walt Disney himself) a hard time during the cinematic adaptation of her beloved characters. The movie has been criticized a bit for oversimplifying Travers, candy-coating Disney and embellishing a few facts. Nevertheless, it carried an 80 percent “fresh” Rotten Tomatoes score as of Monday morning (December 16).

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“American Hustle” has fared even better, earning a 95 percent on the Tomatometer. Director/cowriter David O. Russell recruited several of the castmembers from his last two Best Picture nominees for the ’70s set crime drama. “The Fighter” and “Silver Linings Playbook” collide, boasting a cast made up of Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence (who both won Oscars the last time they worked with Russell) together with Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper (who were both nominated for Oscars the last time they worked with Russell). “American Hustle” made $690,000 from just six locations in New York and Los Angeles over the weekend. It will expand nationwide this weekend.

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” kept Lawrence in the Top 5, grabbing another $13.2 million. Its $333.6 million domestic total is about $20 million off from last year’s franchise kickoff during the same point in its run. “Catching Fire” has made nearly $730 million worldwide.

‘Though “American Hustle” had a way bigger pre-screen-average than “Banks,” Disney had no reason to be sad. In addition to the continued success of “Frozen,” “Thor: The Dark World” (from the Disney owned Marvel) remained in the Top 5 with another $2.7 million in receipts. The second Marvel Universe sequel in the wake of “The Avengers” won’t come anywhere near the year’s biggest movie, “Iron Man 3.” But the $619.9 million worldwide total for the hammer-wielding Avenger is way past the $449.3 million collected by “Thor” in May, 2011.

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