NEW YORK -- On a busy pre-Christmas weekend at the box office, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug held off a very different sequel, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.
Peter Jackson's Hobbit sequel took in $31.5 million in its second weekend of release for Warner Bros. (TWX), according to studio estimates Sunday. That topped Will Ferrell's Anchorman sequel, which nevertheless opened strongly in second place. The Paramount Pictures (VIA) comedy made $26.8 million over the three-day weekend and $40 million since opening Tuesday night.
The much-marketed Anchorman 2 actually outperformed The Hobbit (which has now passed $300 million worldwide) on Friday, but failed to best it over Saturday and Sunday. But the $50 million comedy, which Paramount initially turned down, also suggested it will be more popular abroad than most comedies. It made $13.4 million in six international markets.
The 2004 original opened with $28.4 million, but only grossed $5.3 million internationally.
"Anchorman will have a much larger footprint internationally than the last Anchorman did," said Don Harris, head of domestic distribution for Paramount. "Will Ferrell has done a really good job of turning this character into something that travels around the world."
David O. Russell's fictionalization of the 1970s Abscam investigation American Hustle earned a robust $19.1 million in its first week of nationwide expansion. The Sony Pictures film, starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, got a boost from its co-leading seven Golden Globes nominations.
"It's such a crowd-pleaser as well as a critical hit," said Sony's distribution head Rory Bruer. "We have so much more to look forward to, including Christmas Day."
The pre-Christmas weekend is a sought-after release date, one that usually offers films especially good legs at the box office as moviegoers flood theaters over the coming weeks. The weekend box office was up nearly 30 percent over the same weekend last year.
But this year's holiday frame will be particularly competitive. The crowded field of movie openings Wednesday includes Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street, Ben Stiller's The Life of Walter Mitty, the Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone comedy Grudge Match, the Justin Bieber documentary Justin Bieber's Believe and Keanu Reeves' 47 Ronin.
"It is going to be one heck of a crowded Christmas Day at the movie theater," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for box-office tracker Rentrak. "This is setting up to be perhaps one of the biggest Christmas Days ever."
One obvious casualty from the many options at the multiplexes was 20th Century Fox's (FOX) Walking With Dinosaurs, a 3-D attraction that hoped to draw moviegoers with digital dinosaurs. Made for $85 million, it fell flat with just $7.3 million over the weekend.
The family market has instead been cornered by Disney's (DIS) animated Frozen, which added $19.2 million over the weekend. In five weeks of release, it's made $344 million worldwide.
The other Oscar-hopeful that went wide over the weekend, Disney's making of Mary Poppins tale Saving Mr. Banks. The film, starring Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks, made $9.3 million.
Spike Jonze's acclaimed futuristic romance Her, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlet Johansson, opened in limited release. It took in $361,000 over five days in three cities, good for a $60,000 screen average.
Despite some high-profile summer bombs, the 2013 box office is on track to narrowly surpass last year's record box office of $10.8 billion, with one weekend to go in the year.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Rentrak (RENT). Where available, latest international numbers for Friday through Sunday are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday:
1. "Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," $31.5 million.
2. "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues," $26.8 million.
3. "Frozen," $19.2 million.
4. "American Hustle," $19.1 million.
5. "Saving Mr. Banks," $9.3 million.
6. "Hunger Games: Catching Fire," $8.8 million.
7. "Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas," $8.5 million.
8. "Walking With Dinosaurs," $7.3 million.
9. "Dhoom 3," $3.3 million.
10. "Thor: The Dark World," $1.3 million.