"Django Unchained" beat out "Les Miserables," but couldn't catch "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," which rolled to its third consecutive weekend win with $32.9 million and kept the domestic box office on pace for an all-time record in yearly grosses.
Quentin Tarantino's slave saga surged 17 percent from Friday to Saturday and will finish the weekend with $30.6 million, according to distributor the Weinstein Company. That was enough to top Universal's star-studded musical, which will take in $28 million over the three days.
With a total of around $180 million, it was very strong weekend at the overall box office, running 20 percent ahead of last year. That's particularly impressive since last year included New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, both typically busy days at the multiplexes.
"We knew there'd be some tough competition this weekend," Jeff Goldstein, executive vice president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros., told TheWrap Sunday, "and 'The Hobbit' has been out there for 17 days now, so to do so well, and see the whole business doing so well, is really gratifying."
The year is on pace to finish at $10.8 billion in overall box office grosses. That would put it 6% ahead of 2011 in dollars and 5.9% ahead in attendance and establish a new all-time record. The previous high-mark was the $10.6 billion in 2009.
"Django" is doing better than expected in part because it is connecting with female moviegoers. Women made up 46 percent of the weekend audiences, a surprisingly high number given the film's violent subject matter and the fact that it's up against "Les Miz,' which skews very much female and played to audiences that were 67 percent women this weekend.
"Quentin Tarantino brings a broad audience," David Glasser, the Weinstein Company's chief operating officer, told TheWrap on Sunday, "but we've made a concerted effort to reach out to women with some of our TV spots and it worked."
The gender numbers and the age breakdowns -- 28 percent of the audience was between the ages of 18-24, 26 percent was 25-34 and 35 percent was at least 45 years of age -- bode well for the film, Glasser said.
"When you have that sort of broad base, and the word-of-mouth we have (it received an A- CinemaScore), it means you're going to have legs," he said. "And we've got a lot of momentum, right now."
The R-rated "Django,' which stars Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz, has now grossed $64 million since its $15 million Christmas Day debut.
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The PG-13 "Les Miz," directed by Tom Hooper and starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe and Anne Hathaway, is at $68 million after opening with $18 million Tuesday. After adding another $38 million from eight markets this weekend, "Les Miz" has brought in another $47 million from overseas, giving it a worldwide total of $116 million.
The first weekend for "Les Miserables' compares to that of two other Universal musicals that went on to become hits, 2007's "Hairspray" and 2008's "Mamma Mia," and that's after opening on Christmas.
"Considering that we came in to the weekend with $40 million already -- that's a lot of eyeballs that have already seen it -- we think this is a really great number for us," Nikki Rocco, Universal's head of distribution told TheWrap on Sunday. "Mamma Mia" made more than $600 million worldwide, "Hairspray" $202 million.
Peter Jackson's Middle-earth epic "The Hobbit" has taken in $222 million since opening in the U.S. on Dec. 14. With another $464 million from oveseas -- including an Imax total that is nearing $50 million -- it has brought in more than $684 million worldwide for Warner Bros. It brought in $106 million from overseas just in the past week.
The other Christmas Day opener, Fox's Billy Crystal-Bette Midler PG-rated comedy "Parental Guidance," finished fourth with $14.8 million and now has a domestic total of $29.5 million.
Chris Aronson, Fox's head of distribution, said his studio's movie -- and the marketplace -- was benefiting from the broad and varied offerings that some analysts had feared was too crowded.
"I think we can definitely say that's not the case," Aronson told TheWrap. "This is when things work best, when there really is something for everyone. There's a spectacle tentpole, an R-rated spaghetti Western, an action movie ("Jack Reacher), an R-rated comedy ("This is 40") and even a musical for, crying out loud. And then there's us."
He pointed to the audience breakdown on "Parental Guidance" -- 52 percent female, 53 percent family, 55 over 25 years of age -- as a sign the family film will play strongly through next month, when there will be a dearth of PG films in the market.
Paramount's Tom Cruise PG-13 action film "Jack Reacher" held strongly in its second week, taking in $14 million, down just 7 percent from its debut weekend. It's overall domestic total is $44.6 million. It added $18 million from 24 foreign markets this weekend and now has an international total of $22.5 million and worldwide gross of $67 million.
Judd Apatow's R-rated comedy "This is 40" was next with $13.2 million, raising its domestic total after two weeks to $37.2 million for Universal.
DreamWorks' and Disney's Oscar front-runner "Lincoln" stayed strong, adding $7.5 million in its eighth week to raises its overall domestic total to $132 million.
Paramount's Barbra Streisand-Seth Rogen comedy "The Guilt Trip" took in $6.7 million in its second weekend and raised its overall total to $21 million.