The Hobbit movie is expected to eclipse major rivals such as Skyfall at the box office and could pull in about $10 million in New Zealand alone.
But film buffs say there is still a way to go before its earnings will beat the blockbuster Fellowship of the Ring, the first in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which made almost $15m.
The Hobbit packed out theatres when it made its public debut at midnight yesterday, and although numbers dipped during the daylight hours, bookings picked up sharply towards the evening and on the weekend.
That's prompted some insiders to tip it as the box office earner of the holiday season.
"I don't know what it will eventually gross, but all I can say is it's going to make a mint," said Steve Newall, editor of film website flicks.co.nz.
He's expecting it to easily beat the $5.4m figure earned domestically by Skyfall, the latest film in the James Bond franchise, and the $4.6m taken in by tweenie hit Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2.
Cinema owners are certainly betting Sir Peter Jackson's return to Middle- earth will draw the crowds, with Reading Courtney dedicating four theatres to the film.
Wellington's Embassy Cinema, where The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings premieres were held, is dedicating virtually its entire screening schedule to the film for the next few days.
The venue's main theatre holds 750 seats, and at $19.50 per adult ticket (excluding 3D glasses), that's a gross take of $14,625 if fully booked for one seating. The cinema is running six screenings a day.
"It will be the film of the summer, and our pre-sales are extremely strong," said Carmen Switzer, general manager of Event Cinemas NZ. "We've had sessions on sale at the Embassy since December 7 right through to Christmas and those are starting to fill up fast."
Part of the attraction is the novelty of the high frame rate - 48 frames per second against the 24 for standard movies.
Still, despite the momentum behind the movie, some pundits say it's unlikely to beat the $14.6m earned by The Fellowship of the Ring at the New Zealand box office.
Tony Brooks, manager of the Empire Theatre in Island Bay, says that's partly because the three-hour run-time caps the number of screenings, cinema-goers are still keeping a tight grip on the purse strings, and some of the mystique surrounding Middle-earth has waned.
Still, he expects it to earn about $10m - the mid-point between Skyfall and The Fellowship of the Ring, and believes takings will pick up as the next instalments screen.
That's certainly good news for Jackson and the Warner Bros studio, who are betting The Hobbit trilogy will generate as much as the Lord of the Rings films, which raked in US$2.9 billion (NZ$3.5b) globally.
- The Dominion Post