The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas will go head-to-head at the box office this weekend, although the matchup is not exactly a nail-biter. As the second prequel in the incredibly popular and successful Lord of the Rings franchise, Hobbit is pretty much guaranteed a stronger bow. Last year, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Smaug’s predecessor, earned $300 million domestically and an unearthly $1 billion worldwide. Critics, however, didn’t love it, and even fan reactions were mixed, certainly in comparison with the kind of accolades heaped upon director Peter Jackson’s Rings trilogy. Journey’s success was largely due to its ability to leverage the popularity of these films, while Smaug has a more difficult road ahead of it as it works to prove it’s better (more fun, less dragging) than its predecessor. Luckily, critics seem to think it is. The Desolation of Smaug will probably earn $15 million less than Journey and open to around $70 million or so. The fact that such a staggering gross would still be considered a qualified success speaks to the ridiculous earning potential of – and ridiculous expectations surrounding – these movies.
Though it isn’t expected to trump The Hobbit, Madea’s box-office odds are still looking pretty merry. Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas is the director’s 14th movie in the past eight years. Eight of Perry’s 13 movies have opened to $20 million or more. A more fun fact: The only other directors to have had as many $20 million openings are Robert Zemeckis, who has had nine, and Steven Spielberg, who can boast 11. In total, Perry’s oeuvre has earned $674 million domestically, with his top three films all featuring his Madea character, or Perry dressed up as a smart-mouthed granny. Odds are Madea will chuckle up a little less than $30 million.
Frozen and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire are still going strong and will probably land at nos. three and four, respectively. Specialty enthusiasts and Academy Awards speculators, though, are more concerned with Disney and Jennifer Lawrence’s other movies opening in limited release this weekend: Saving Mr. Banks and American Hustle. Viewers are expected to be drawn in like moths to the Oscar-gold flame surrounding these two. Awards buzz is thick around Lawrence, who plays a broadly cockamamie housewife in Hustle, and Emma Thompson as the persnickety Mary Poppins author, P.L. Travers, in Banks. The latter film is opening in 15 locations ahead of its wide release next weekend, while Hustle will screen in six theatres.