All of Will Ferrell’s promotional TV appearances as Ron Burgundy — from tussling with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show to anchoring a real North Dakota news program — couldn’t defeat Bilbo and his questing Dwarves. In the battle of first sequels, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, Ferrell’s followup to the 2004 cult comedy, finished second in North American theaters to the reigning champ, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Peter Jackson’s latest take on Tolkien won the weekend, $31.5 million to Anchorman 2′s $26.8 million, according to preliminary studio estimates, and the Wednesday through Sunday stretch, $41.4 million to $40 million.
On a busy pre-Christmas weekend, domestic revenue was up 29% over the same frame last year ($146.2 million to $110.9 million); and the top four movies — Smaug, Anchorman 2, Frozen and American Hustle — amassed $96.4 million, nearly 40% higher than the $69.4 million earned by last year’s top quartet (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Jack Reacher, This Is 40 and Rise of the Guardians). After 10 days, the second Hobbit movie has passed $400 million worldwide, but is running 7% behind the 10-day take of An Unexpected Journey. Smaug also lags by 18% in the U.S. and Canada. Yet its second week still beat Anchorman 2′s first.
(SEE: TIME’s guide to the 13 Dwarves of The Hobbit)
Promoting Burgundy from a San Diego TV station in the ’70s to a CNN-like international network in 1980, Anchorman 2 reunites Ron’s original posse (Paul Rudd, Steve Carell and David Koechner) and his anchor-gal amour (Christina Applegate). It gives the Carell character a love interest (Kristen Wiig, contractually obligated to appear in every contemporary comedy) and throws in a phalanx of surprise guest stars. All that, plus the good will the first film has accrued over nearly a decade, should have brought in a bit more cash. But the movie attracted a smaller crowd than industry swamis had predicted, and the “B” rating from the CinemaScore poll of early attendees indicates that not all customers were satisfied.
The Disney animated feature Frozen remained strong, earning $19.2 million in its fourth weekend of wide release and skating toward $200 million domestic, $350 million worldwide. The holding power of the two-princess cartoon had to be partly responsible for the meager $7.3-million debut of Walking With Dinosaurs, the fanciful prehistoric epic from BBC Films. With a budget of $80 million, and a disappointing CinemaScore of “B” (quite low for a kid-friendly animated feature), this lumbering creature might already be close to extinction, at least in the U.S. and Canada. The British-made film has yet to be released abroad.
Two pictures with eyes for Oscar awards opened wide this weekend. American Hustle, David O. Russell’s dark comedy about a bunch of schemers involved in the FBI‘s 1978 Abscam sting, finished fourth, with a healthy $19.1 million, in its expansion from a brief limited release. Boasting an impressive ensemble cast, including Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner and an unbilled Robert De Niro, the 2hr.20min. movie received only a so-so B-plus CinemaScore, suggesting it may be too hip for some rooms. But it should play great for Oscar voters.
Saving Mr. Banks, the Disney Studio’s fictionalized infomercial about Walt Disney’s wooing of author P.L. Travers for the rights to her Mary Poppins books, took in about half the Hustle take — $9.3 million — but a golden “A” CinemaScore. The audience was elderly: 61% over the age of 35. Both films should play smartly over the holidays, with Hustle snagging Oscar nominations for Picture and Lawrence as Best Supporting Actress, and Banks getting Emma Thompson on the Best Actress shortlist.
Another Academy contender, Spike Jonze’s rom-com her, opened at six theaters and pulled a less-than-spectacular $259,000, or $43,000 per screen. The Past, from Oscar-winning Irani director Ashgar Farhadi (A Separation) but set in France, stumbled at the gate, earning just $30,942 on three screens. The Past also took a substantial blow when the Academy left it off the nine-movie Foreign Language shortlist. Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis, a critics’ darling, expanded from 15 venues to 148 and cadged an O.K. $1.1 million.
(READ: Lisa Schwarzbaum on Listening to Llewyn Davis)
The big specialty-film debut was for Dhoom 3, a Bollywood action movie loosely inspired by the Fast & Furious films. A sequel to two episodes from 2004 and 2006 starring Abhishek Bachchan as Inspector Jai Dixit and Uday Chopra as his bumbling aide, Dhoom 3 adds superstar Aamir Khan (Lagaan) as the villain. Playing in 236 theaters serving the Indian diaspora, the movie earned $3.3 million — the strongest opening day and opening weekend for any Bollywood picture in the U.S. — and broke into the top 10. That’s not doom; that’s boom.
(READ: Bobby Ghosh on the lofty ambitions of Aamir Khan)
Here are the Sunday estimates of this weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:
1. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, $31.5 million; $127.5 million, second week
2. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, $26.8 million; $40 million, first five days
3. Frozen, $19.2 million; $191.6 million, fifth week
4. American Hustle, $19.1 million; $20.2 million, second week
5. Saving Mr. Banks, $9.3 million; $9.9 million, second week
6. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, $8.8 million; $371.7 million, fifth week
7. Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas, $8.5 million; $28.3 million, second week
8. Walking With Dinosaurs, $7.3 million, first weekend
9. Dhoom 3, $3.3 million, first weekend
10. Thor: The Dark World, $1.3 million; $200.8 million, seventh week