"The Hobbit," Peter Jackson's prequel to the blockbuster "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, charged out of the box-office blocks taking in $37.5 million Friday in its North American debut.
That puts it on track for a three-day total of between $95 million and $100 million, which would shatter the December record for biggest debut. The previous best was the $77.2 million brought in by "I Am Legend" in 2007."
It's been nine years since moviegoers have had the chance to revisit Middle-earth and they were glad to be back, giving "The Hobbit" an "A" CinemaScore.
The final film in "The Lord of the Rings" series, "The Return of the King," debuted to $72.6 million domestically in 2003, but "The Hobbit" is benefiting from a higher mark-up on 3D tickets. It is the first adaptation of the beloved J.R.R. Tolkien books to arrive in theaters in that format and is available in 3,160 of the total 4,045 screens. It's on 326 Imax screens, too.
Friday's grosses for "The Hobbit" were boosted by the $13 million taken in from midnight screenings at 3,100 locations, 2,160 of which were 3D.
"The Hobbit" is also opening on 18,200 screens internationally in 56 foreign markets. After Friday, the first installment in the new trilogy has earned $57 million, Warner Bros. said.
Also read: 'The Hobbit': What Critics Think
About 460 theaters showed "The Hobbit" in the groundbreaking but controversial 48 frame-per-second format – which doubles the standard film speed and provides more clarity – that Jackson utilized when he shot the movie.
The film stars Ian McKellen as the wizard, Gandalf, and Martin Freeman as the titular hobbit, Bilbo Baggins. New Line and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer co-produced and co-financed the film.
The battle for second place was close between "Lincoln," "Skyfall" and Rise of the Guardians."
In its sixth week, last week's top film "Skyfall" brought in $1.8 million and will finish the three days at around $7 million for Sony. DreamWorks Animation's "Rise of the Guardians" took in $1.5 million but, with the family bump on Saturday and Sunday, could wind up around $7 million too. DreamWorks and Disney's Oscar front-runner "Lincoln" brought in $1.9 million, putting it on pace to finish the weekend at $6.4 million.
Fox's "Life of Pi" made $1.4 million Friday and is looking at $5 million for the weekend. "Twilight: Breaking Dawn - Part 2" was in the same range.
The Weinstein Company's Oscar hopeful "Silver Linings Playbook" brought in $588,000 from 371 screens.