The first of three Hobbit movies kicked off its box office quest with an estimated $US13 million (NZ$22 million) in ticket sales from showings at US and Canadian theatres just after midnight on Friday, a record for a December debut.
The performance topped the US$8 million from midnight sales for December 2003 film The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
The Hobbit also rung up sales of US$27.3 million in 42 international markets since its overseas debut on Wednesday, distributor Warner Bros. said. Combined with the early North American sales, the global total stands at an estimated US$40.3 million.
In New Zealand the movie raked in $782,695 on its opening day on Wednesday. The box office takings compare favourably against The Lord of the Rings trilogy on the records charts, with Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring grossing $720,933 on its opening day and The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers grossing $757,887.
The Hobbit was released on 203 screens, in 98 different cinemas from from Kaitaia to Invercargill, making it the biggest release on record in New Zealand, Roadshow said.
The new 3D film follows the epic journey of hobbit Bilbo Baggins, played by Martin Freeman, as he travels with a band of dwarves to steal treasures from the dragon Smaug. The film is directed by Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings filmmaker Peter Jackson and features many of the stars of the earlier films. All of the movies are based on classic novels by J.R.R. Tolkien.
The Hobbit likely will finish the weekend with North American sales of US$75 million or more from Friday through Sunday, predicts Paul Dergarabedian, president of the box office division of Hollywood.com.
Some analysts have projected three-day North American sales may top US$100 million, though no movie has opened that big in December, a time when children are in school and families are busy with holiday activities. The North American record for the month of December belongs to Will Smith sci-fi film I Am Legend, which debuted with US$77.2 million in 2007.
The Lord of the Rings movies, which debuted from 2001 to 2003, brought in US$2.9 billion at global box offices.