'Hobbit' box office could be big

Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."

Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."

MICHAEL RECHTSHAFFEN, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:50 PM ET

HOLLYWOOD -- How big might The Hobbit be?

If you were to have asked author J.R.R. Tolkien, he would have told you that the Hobbit stands somewhere between 2 and 4-feet tall, with their average height being 3'6".

Ask a seasoned industry observer and they'll likely tell you the sky's the limit.

Warner Bros., the studio releasing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, is obviously thinking along those lofty lines.

On Wednesday advance tickets to the first installment in Peter Jackson's anticipated trilogy went on sale a full five weeks ahead of the movie's official Dec. 14 opening.

In the first day, the on-line ticket seller, Fandango reported that The Hobbit claimed 33% of total sales, knocking advance sales for The Twilight Saga finale off the top spot for the first time since Oct. 1.

Over in Australia, the results were similarly strong, with Event Cinemas tracking first-day sales that were 34% higher than those for The Dark Knight Rises.

Of course, while there are also those pundits who contend the studio is setting itself up for disappointment, given the high bar Jackson set with the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

On the optimistic end, it's been a whole nine years (yikes!) since Jackson paid his last visit to Middle Earth with 2003's LotR finale, The Return of the King, and after less successful detours (King Kong, The Lovely Bones), Tolkien fans are anxious to see the filmmaker returning to the scene of his greatest triumph.

The Hobbit's long journey to the megaplexes has its share of bumps in the road, dating back to ongoing production delays that resulted in the departure of original director Guillermo Del Toro in 2010, followed by a union dispute that had at one point had producers considering moving the shoot from New Zealand to Eastern Europe.

Although the original plan was for a two-parter (the films were shot back-to-back), over the summer Jackson confirmed that the Hobbit would now be a trilogy and that some additional shooting would be required to flesh out the third installment.

More recently, eyebrows were raised over the announcement that some 450 prints of The Unexpected Journey would be screened at a rate of 48 frames per second, rather than the 24-frames-per-second that have long been the industry standard.

While Jackson championed the upgrade, those who got a sneak peek at the new technology earlier this year at a Las Vegas convention of theatre owners weren't exactly bowled over by the results, with some complaining that it looked more like high-definition television.

As far as the competition goes, The Hobbit has the Dec. 14 weekend all to itself, meaning the only thing Jackson will be going up against will be the box office record of his own Rings trilogy.

Here are the numbers that The Hobbit is going to have to at least match -- if not beat -- in order not to be considered a disappointment in the jaded eyes of Hollywood: The first LotR installment, The Fellowship of the Ring, took in $18.2 million domestically on opening day, Dec. 19, 2001 (a Wednesday) and went on to a $75.1 million five-day weekend.

The second, The Two Towers, collected $26.2 million on opening day and earned $102 million over the course of its first five days.

The finale grossed $34.5 million on opening day and raked in an impressive $124.1 million over its first five days in North American theatres.

With those numbers unadjusted for inflation, The Hobbit would need a first day landing between $30 million on the lower end and $40 million on the higher end to be considered Rings-worthy.

Obviously Jackson and Warner Bros. are banking on the end result proving Hobbit-forming.


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