Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is living up to expectations, grossing $37.5 million to score the biggest Friday ever in the month of December.
Overseas, the film's three-day gross (it began rolling out Wednesday) is $57 million, putting its world total at $94.5 million.
In more good news for New Line and MGM, which partnered on the film, The Hobbit earned an A CinemaScore domestically. Friday's tally for the 3D fantasy epic, based on J. R. R. Tolkien's 1937 novel and set 60 years before the events chronicled in The Lord of the Rings, included $13 million in midnight grosses.
Insiders at Warner Bros., which is distributing Hobbit, are predicting an $85 million weekend, also a record for December. Will Smith's I Am Legend, debuting on the same weekend in 2007, holds the record with $77.2 million. I Am Legend also had held the record for best Friday in December ($30.1 million).
More bullish box-office observers believe Hobbit could open north of $95 million.
Others caution that the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., could dampen moviegoing among families.
Hobbit has earned $27.3 million in its first two days of play overseas, where it began rolling out on Wednesday.
Starring Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and returning Ian McKellen in the role of the wizard Gandalf form Jackson's Lord of the Rings films, Hobbit is the first in a planned trilogy.