Audiences had their pick of genres during the Christmas weekend, but despite a host of fresh arrivals, splashy holiday fare like "Unbroken" and "Into the Woods" proved no match for "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies."
"The Interview," meanwhile, wowed with $15 million from its over 2 million online rentals and purchases.
The final installment in Peter Jackson's trilogy marched to the top spot once again with an estimated $41.4 million take across the weekend ($54.5 including Christmas day earnings), according to studio estimates Sunday.
"The Battle of the Five Armies" starts off right where the second installment, "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," left off -- with a massive dragon about to breath fire down on a town.
"Come to the third film having done a little bit of homework," said Richard Armitage, who stars as Thorin Oakenshield. "It is a race to the finish line."
Universal's World War II epic "Unbroken" took second place with $31.7 million from the weekend, bringing its domestic total to $47.3 million from its first four days in theaters.
"We're all thrilled," Nikki Rocco, Universal's president of domestic distribution said of the Angelina Jolie-directed drama. "It's a testament to how great this movie is. I'm so happy that America found out about it."
Added Rentrak's senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian: "The story of Louis Zamperini really offered a nice alternative for moviegoers who weren't looking for a fantasy world, a musical or a family film."
Disney's musical "Into the Woods," boasting a star-packed cast and a PG rating, came in a close third with $31 million, and $46.1 million across the four-day period. It replaced "Mamma Mia" as the biggest opening for a screen adaptation of a Broadway musical ever.
"To be able to take (Stephen) Sondheim and (James) Lapine's work and make it available to a mass audience? It's a great holiday gift in and of itself," Disney's distribution Executive Vice President Dave Hollis said.
The rest of the top five was populated by holdovers "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb" and "Annie" and which earned $20.6 million and $16.6 million, respectively, in their second weekend in theaters.
"Their opening numbers didn't really set the world on fire, but, as we thought, they would play well over the Christmas holiday," Dergarabedian said.
Sony's "The Interview" earned $15 million from online rentals and purchases through Saturday. The movie took in $2.8 million from 331 theaters since its opening on Thursday, and $1.8 million of that came from the weekend.
"I'm so grateful that the movie found its way into theaters, and I'm thrilled that people actually went out and saw it," said writer, director and star Seth Rogen in a statement.
"We are very pleased with how it is doing both theatrically where we are seeing numerous sell-outs across the country, and online where it remains at the top of many charts" added Rory Bruer, Sony's president of worldwide distribution. In just four days, "The Interview" became Sony's most successful online film of all time.
Other weekend debuts include Paramount's $25 million crime drama "The Gambler," which took seventh place with a middling $9.3 million from 2,478 theaters. The Weinstein Company's "Big Eyes" earned only $2.97 million over the weekend from 1,307 screens and $4.4 million from the four-day. The haul is a career low for director Tim Burton compared with his other wide-release openings.
In limited release, Clint Eastwood's fact-based Iraq war drama "American Sniper" opened in four locations, taking in a phenomenal $610,000. The staggering $152,510 per-theater average is second this year only to "The Grand Budapest Hotel."
Ava DuVernay's Martin Luther King Jr. drama "Selma," meanwhile, opened in 19 locations to $590,000 over the three-day weekend for a solid $31,053 per-theater average. The film expands nationwide on Jan. 9.
Dergarabedian thinks that less impressive debuts, such as awards hopeful "Big Eyes," could find an audience in the coming weeks.
"It's just very, very crowded out there," Dergarabedian said. "The audience wins, though. There is so much choice out there. If you can't find a movie to your liking in this lineup, then you just don't like movies."