"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" took in $13 million from screenings at or soon after midnight Thursday in the U.S. and Canada, getting off to a healthy start for what should be a huge weekend at the box office for director Peter Jackson's widely anticipated movie.
While big, particularly for a nearly three-hour movie in mid-December, the performance of the "Lord of the Rings" prequel did not come close to other movies that premiered in the darkness. The all-time No. 1 is "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2," which in July 2011 took in $43.5 million before the sun rose.
In fact, "The Hobbit" did not make the top 10 midnight grossers, a list that also includes two other "Potter" pictures, four "Twilight" sequels, "The Dark Knight Rises," "THe Hunger Games" and "The Avengers."
The last time Jackson visited Middle-earth, "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" grossed $8 million from midnight showings in December 2003, a record at the time.
Expectations remain optimistic throughout Hollywood that Warner Bros.' and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's "The Hobbit" will open to more than $100 million by the end of the weekend, buffeted by premium ticket prices for Imax and 3-D showings, some of which use a controversial new "high frame rate" technology.
"The Hobbit" is also off to a robust start overseas, where it is ultimately expected to collect much more than in the U.S. and Canada. It grossed $27.3 million from 42 foreign markets on Wednesday and Thursday, with the highest takes in Britain, France, Germany and South Korea.