While Hollywood continued to wrestle with the fallout of the Sony hacking scandal, the weekend box office offered the solace of a moviegoing truism: Hobbits sell.
Peter Jackson's final installment of his six J.R.R. Tolkien adventures, "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies," debuted with $56.2 million over the weekend and $90.6 million since opening Wednesday, according to studio estimates Sunday. For an industry reeling from the cancellation of "The Interview" and terrorist threats against moviegoers, Middle-earth provided reliable refuge.
Aided by popularity on Imax screens, "The Battle of the Five Armies" dominated the pre-Christmas frame with a five-day haul similar to the franchise's previous entry, "The Desolation of Smaug," even if its actual debut weekend was notably less than both prior "Hobbit" movies. In its second week of release overseas, Warner Bros.' "Five Armies" added $105.5 million to bring its two-week global total past $350 million.
"The fans are the lifeblood of what we do. We put out this work for people who love it and want to see it," Evangeline Lilly, who plays lady elf archer Tauriel, told CBS News.
Jeff Goldstein, head of domestic distribution for Warner Bros., said the healthy weekend of moviegoing was a welcome respite after an "upsetting and so disturbing" week.
"Not only did we do business in places that I would expect, like the West Coast, we did business everywhere in the country," Goldstein said. "We didn't see that on the prior two `Hobbit's."
Another final installment in a trilogy, "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb," opened in a distant second place. The Fox comedy, which features Robin Williams' final performance, took in $17.3 million, well off the pace of previous franchise entries. The franchise's previous debut was $54.2 million for 2009's "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian."
Sony Pictures, which on Wednesday shelved the Dec. 25 release of the North Korea satire "The Interview" following hacker threats of violence against theaters showing the film, unveiled its other holiday option. The studio's "Annie" remake, starring Quvenzhane Wallis as the titular orphan, opened with $16.3 million.
"It was nice shot in the arm," said Rory Bruer, head of distribution for Sony, who declined to discuss issues related to "The Interview." "We're focused on `Annie,'" he said.
Last week's top film, Ridley Scott's Moses epic, "Exodus: Gods and Kings," tumbled to fourth place with $8.1 million in its second week. The Fox release slid a dramatic 67 percent.
Heading into one of Hollywood's most lucrative weekends of the year, the Christmas box office will be without its top comedy option in "The Interview," directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. The film had been expected to take in about $25-30 million.
With one major release now out of the mix, that will leave more room for the Disney musical "Into the Woods," Angelina Jolie's World War II tale "Unbroken" and "The Hobbit."
"There's a huge opportunity there," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for box-office tracker Rentrak. "There's enough product out there to give it a very satisfying, Christmas holiday leading into the new year. Yeah, we are down one film, but it's a nice mix of films out there."
On Sunday, David Boies, a lawyer for Sony, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that "The Interview" "will be released." The studio has been criticized by many, including President Barack Obama, for dropping the film following data leaks and intimidations from hackers the FBI has said came from North Korea.
"How it's going to be distributed, I don't think anybody knows quite yet," Boies said.