"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" scampered away with the top spot at the multiplex this weekend, beating out a handful of popular Christmas releases to claim No. 1 yet again.
For the third consecutive weekend, Peter Jackson's prequel to "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy sold the most tickets at the box office, grossing $32.9 million, according to an estimate from distributor Warner Bros. After a decent opening, the big-budget film has proved to have legs with moviegoers: Domestically, the movie has collected $222.7 million, and abroad it has grossed an even more robust sum of nearly $400 million.
The final weekend of 2012 was a strong one for Hollywood, as a crop of well-reviewed titles gave good performances at the box office. Quentin Tarantino's western "Django Unchained" lassoed the runner-up position, as the violent R-rated flick took in $30.7 million. Since debuting Tuesday, the movie has made a strong $64 million.
"Les Miserables," a star-studded adaptation of the classic Broadway musical, didn't do quite as well as the industry had predicted after its excellent start on Christmas Day. Still, the movie sold a respectable $28 million worth of tickets this weekend, raising its six-day total to a fantastic $67.5 million.
Even the critically-lambasted family comedy "Parental Guidance" did solid business at the box office. Though its weekend take of $14.8 million wasn't especially impressive, the film starring Billy Crystal and Bette Midler has now made $29.6 million -- far more than pre-release audience polling suggested at the beginning of the week.
Overall, ticket sales were up 20% compared with the final three-day period in 2011, according to Hollywood.com. With only a few days left in the year, it appears that both revenue and attendance will have lifted roughly 6% from 2011.
"Django" was by far the most expensive of the new releases to hit theaters this week, costing co-financiers The Weinstein Co. and Sony Pictures about $100 million to produce. But the film -- also the best-reviewed of the new crop -- earned a positive average grade of A- from opening day moviegoers, and that word of mouth paid off.
The movie, which stars Jamie Foxx as a slave out to kill a greedy plantation owner, marks the second-best opening ever for Tarantino behind his latest film, 2009's "Inglourious Basterds." That movie, which launched with $38.1 million, went on to become the filmmaker's biggest hit ever, collecting $120.5 million in North America.
"Les Miserables" also benefitted from strong buzz and the average A grade it received from audiences. The film, which stars a handful of popular actors including Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe, cost Universal about $61 million to make.
The picture is also doing well overseas, having collected $48.7 million from just eight foreign markets. The movie did best by far in Korea, where its $20.1-million take marked the biggest opening ever for a musical in the country and the best debut there for any Universal title.
With a lack of family films in the marketplace, "Parental Guidance" was able to attract parents and their children. About 53% of those who saw the movie were families, who gave the film an A- CinemaScore despite the fact that the movie was savaged by reviewers.
“Critics are so impressed with themselves and want to show how smart and clever they are, and when there’s something sweet that’s right down the middle, they tend to turn their noses up at it,” said Chris Aronson, president of domestic distribution for 20th Century Fox, which released the film.
Along with Walden Media, Fox spent only about $25 million to make "Parental Guidance," as its big stars Crystal and Midler took cut deals and the movie did not require any pricey special effects.
In limited release, Focus Features debuted its environmental drama "Promised Land" in 25 theaters. The movie, co-written by and starring Matt Damon and John Krasinski, took in $190,150 over the weekend, amounting to a modest $7,606 per-theater average. The $16-million film, about a small town weighing whether to allow oil drilling, will expand to about 1,500 locations next weekend.
[For the record, Dec. 31, 7:46 AM: An earlier version of this post said that "Promised Land" grossed $72,047 over the weekend for a per-theater average of $2,882. In fact, that is how much the movie grossed on Saturday alone.]