'Hobbit' bests 'Rings' with $84.8 million opening

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NEW YORK — Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” led the box office with a haul of $84.8 million, a record-setting opening better than the three previous “Lord of the Rings” films.

The Warner Bros. Middle Earth epic was the biggest December opening ever, surpassing Will Smith’s “I Am Legend,” which opened with $77.2 million in 2007, according to studio estimates Sunday. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” also passed the December opening of “Avatar,” which opened with $77 million. Internationally, “The Hobbit” also added $138.2 million, for an impressive global debut of $223 million.

Despite weak reviews, the 3-D adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s first novel in the fantasy series was an even bigger draw than the last “Lord of the Rings” movie, “The Return of the King.” That film opened with $72.6 million. “The Hobbit” is the first of another planned trilogy, with two more films to be squeezed out of Tolkien’s book.

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