There are two ways of looking at the record breaking opening weekend of  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and it’s worth examining both sides of it’s victory. Because it’s the only thing worth talking about this weekend.

Film Weekend Per Screen
1 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey $84,775,000 $20,958 $84,775,000
2 Rise of the Guardians $7,420,000 (-28.7%) $2,191 $71,362,000
3 Lincoln $7,244,000 (-18.8%) $3,170 $107,898,000
4 Skyfall $7,000,000 (-35.1%) $2,394 $272,366,000
5 Life of Pi $5,400,000 (-35.2%)
$2,119 $69,559,000
6 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 $5,175,000 (-43.5%) $1,701 $276,865,000
7 Wreck-It Ralph $3,273,000 (-32.6%) $1,455 $168,779,000
8 Playing for Keeps $3,247,000 (-43.5%) $1,143 $10,838,000
9 Red Dawn $2,394,000 (-43.5%) $1,064 $40,889,000
10 Silver Linings Playbook $2,084,000 (-4.0%) $5,617 $16,954,000

The Smeagol Side: The Hobbit handily took the record for the highest grossing opening weekend of any December film. With a little less than $85 Million, it scored more than either I Am Legend ($77.2 million) or Avatar ($77 million). It also opened higher than Return of the King, which made $72.6 million.

The Gollum Side: Though it obviously trounced Avatar, when you include 3D price bumps and inflation, it’s unlikely that it sold more tickets than I Am Legend or Return of the King, on top of which box office reporting has changed so much it’s hard to get a full picture of cinema history. These numbers are meaningless outside of the context of the last twenty years, and even then with 3D pricing, it’s still not a full picture. And though it has way less showings a day than The Avengers did, it’s nowhere close to those numbers, so the argument that this is a phenomenon is untenable. Within the context of the month, it did great business and should play long, but it also opened to $56 Million less than the new Twilight film. Sure, it made less money because it’s long, but still.

The Smeagol Side: But that’s just whining, the film is a success and got an A rating from cinemascore.

The Gollum Side: What is evident from box office is that if people go for a hamburger, and they get a hamburger, they tend to be happy. Audiences got what they expected from the film, which is a return to the mood and tone and some of the characters that they love. And there is a fanbase for this series, so it’s not surprising that it was well received and made money. With films like this it’s hard to get a read on what people think within 72 hours of the film being released. Popular opinion for franchise films can’t be trusted right away because the audience for these pictures will watch these films over and over. Look at Star Wars. Sure, there are some who still love the prequel films, but public opinion on the first film – which is still the highest grossing of the new/first three, has never been lower.

The Smeagol Side: But as we said on Thursday, it’s going into holiday weekends, and this number suggests the film should make over $300 million domestically, and with international numbers, it’s like to make over a billion worldwide (currently it’s at $223 Million, but not all numbers are in for the weekend)

The Gollum Side: We’re not arguing that the film is going to make money. It seems very likely that the film will make a billion worldwide, which would put it in the top fifteen highest grossing films of all time (unadjusted). The question is how people will feel about the film in May, when the first wave of home video hits. Right now the film is shiny and new, and we know a lot of people who have already seen the film multiple times. But even then this is the fourth entry in a film series, which means it could be open exceptionally well, but then fall that much harder because the faithful went right away. What we’ve seen in the past suggests the film should have big numbers for the next three weeks, but there’s just as much reason to think the holiday won’t buoy those numbers because – even though it’s a first chapter – outsiders may have no interest if they aren’t already in.

The Smeagol Side: Why are you being a jerk?

The Gollum Side: The numbers are the numbers, and box office, much like reviews of a film, should rarely be taken personally. Success doesn’t make something good and being good doesn’t mean something will make money. That said, fandom has shown very specifically that what they loved right away isn’t always what they continue to love, and many modern films age poorly. With the release earlier this year of The Amazing Spider-Man, some people (though not all) were arguing that the Sam Raimi films weren’t that good, or as good in comparison. When Attack of the Clones came out, people were saying that it was on the level of Empire Strikes Back, and on and on and on. We’re sure people loved this movie, because they got what they came for. Does it matter if it sustains appeal? Yes.

The Smeagol Side: And no.

What did you watch this weekend?