Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" took in $36.7 million to remain No. 1 at the box office for the second-straight weekend, easily beating a rush of top-name holiday newcomers.
Part one of Jackson's prelude to his "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, the Warner Bros. release raised its domestic total to $149.9 million after 10 days. The film added $91 million overseas to bring its international total to $284 million and its worldwide haul to $434 million.
"The Hobbit" took a steep 57 percent drop from its domestic $84.6 million opening weekend, but business was soft in general as many people skipped movies in favor of last-minute Christmas preparations.
"The real winner this weekend might be holiday shopping," said Paul Dergarabedian, an analyst for box-office tracker Hollywood.com.
Tom Cruise's action thriller "Jack Reacher" debuted in second-place with a modest $15.6 million debut, according to studio estimates Sunday. Based on the Lee Child best-seller "One Shot," the Paramount Pictures release stars Cruise as a lone-wolf ex-military investigator tracking a sniper conspiracy.
Opening at No. 3 with $12 million was Judd Apatow's marital comedy "This Is 40," a Universal Pictures film featuring Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann reprising their roles from the director's 2007 hit "Knocked Up."
Paramount's road-trip romp "The Guilt Trip," featuring "Knocked Up" star Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand, debuted weakly at No. 6 with $5.4 million over the weekend and $7.4 million since it opened Wednesday. Playing in narrower release, Paramount's acrobatic fantasy "Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away" debuted at No. 11 with $2.1 million.
A 3-D version of Disney's 2001 animated blockbuster "Monsters, Inc." also had a modest start at No. 7 with $5 million over the weekend and $6.5 million since opening Wednesday.
Domestic business was off for the first time in nearly two months. Overall revenues totaled $112 million, down 12.6 percent from the same weekend last year, when Cruise's "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" debuted with $29.6 million, according to Hollywood.com.
Cruise's "Jack Reacher" opened at barely half the level as "Ghost Protocol," but with a $60 million budget, the new flick cost about $100 million less to make.
Starting on Christmas, Hollywood expects a big week of movie-going with schools out through New Year's Day and many adults taking time off. So Paramount and other studios are counting on strong business for films that started slowly this weekend.
"'Jack Reacher' will end up in a very good place. The movie will be profitable for Paramount," said Don Harris, the studio's head of distribution. "The first time I saw the movie I saw dollar signs. It certainly wasn't intended to be compared to a 'Mission: Impossible,' though."
Likewise, Warner Bros. is looking for steady crowds for "The Hobbit" over the next week, despite the debut of two huge newcomers - the musical "Les Miserables" and the action movie "Django Unchained" - on Christmas Day.
"We haven't reached the key holiday play time yet," said Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner. "It explodes on Tuesday and goes right through the end of the year."
In limited release, Kathryn Bigelow's Osama bin Laden manhunt saga "Zero Dark Thirty" played to packed houses with $410,000 in just five theaters, averaging a huge $82,000 a cinema.
That compares to a $4,654 average in 3,352 theaters for "Jack Reacher" and a $4,130 average in 2,913 cinemas for "This Is 40." ''The Guilt Trip" averaged $2,217 in 2,431 locations, and "Monsters, Inc." averaged $1,925 in 2,618 cinemas. Playing just one matinee and one evening show a day at 840 theaters, "Cirque du Soleil" averaged $2,542.
Since opening Wednesday, "Zero Dark Thirty" has taken in $639,000. Distributor Sony plans to expand the acclaimed film to nationwide release Jan. 11, amid film honors and nominations leading up to the Feb. 24 Academy Awards.
Opening in 15 theaters from Lionsgate banner Summit Entertainment, Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor's tsunami-survival drama "The Impossible" took in $138,750 for an average of $9,250.
A fourth new release from Paramount, "The Sopranos" creator David Chase's 1960s rock 'n' roll tale "Not Fade Away," debuted with $19,000 in three theaters, averaging $6,333.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Where available, latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.
1. "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," $36.7 million ($91 million international).
2. "Jack Reacher," $15.6 million ($2.5 million international).
3. "This Is 40," $12 million.
4. "Rise of the Guardians," $5.9 million ($13.7 million international).
5. "Lincoln," $5.6 million.
6. "The Guilt Trip," $5.4 million.
7. "Monsters, Inc." in 3-D, $5 million.
8. "Skyfall," $4.7 million ($9 million international),
9. "Life of Pi," $3.8 million ($23.2 million international).
10. "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2," $2.6 million.
Universal and Focus are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.; Sony, Columbia, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc.; Disney, Pixar and Marvel are owned by The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is owned by Filmyard Holdings LLC; 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are owned by News Corp.; Warner Bros. and New Line are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a group of former creditors including Highland Capital, Anchorage Advisors and Carl Icahn; Lionsgate is owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; IFC is owned by AMC Networks Inc.; Rogue is owned by Relativity Media LLC.