There were two races going on at the crowded weekend box office: one involved Oscar hopefuls, like Zero Dark Thirty; the other involved Jack Reacher, This Is 40 and The Guilt Trip, all hoping to standing up to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
The awards-season candidates got bragging points; The Hobbit got everything else.
The Peter Jackson film dominated with an estimated $36.7 million Friday-Sunday that upped its domestic total after two weekends to $150 million.
Jack Reacher grossed $15.6 million, a debut for the action film that was only slightly better than that of Cruise's musical dud, last summer's Rock of Ages.
This Is 40, the quasi-sequel to Knocked Up, came away with $12 million, the smallest-ever debut for an Apatow-directed comedy, and one of the smaller starts from the overall Apatow brand, down there with The Five-Year Engagement.
Opening-weekend audiences were more enthusiastic about Jack Reacher than This Is 40, grading the Cruise film an A-minus versus This Is 40's B-minus, per the polling firm CinemaScore.
Seth Rogen's and Barbra Streisand's The Guilt Trip looked gassed after only five days in theaters. Since opening Wednesday, the road-trip comedy has grossed $7.4 million, including a paltry $5.4 million from the weekend. (For what it's worth, the moviegoers who showed up didn't flat-out hate The Guilt Trip, awarding it a B-minus CinemaScore.)
Overall, the box office was down from the same holiday weekend last season, when Cruise looked to be back on track with a big expansion for Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows held strong.
This time out, not even a Disney rerelease could work its magic, as the 3-D version of Monsters, Inc. fizzled, earning only $6.5 million since bowing Wednesday.
And The Hobbit, though big, and nearing the half-billion mark worldwide, saw ticket sales plunge nearly 60 percent from its debut. Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies all showed stronger legs.
Things were hotter on the art-show circuit, where Kathryn Bigelows debate-starter Zero Dark Thirty averaged a fantastic $82,000 at each of its five theaters. Since opening mid-week, the Best Picture contender has grossed $639,000.
The French-language film and Best Actress vehicle Amour is at $100,213 after five days in theaters. Its weekend per-screen average was an impressive $23,554.
Here's the complete rundown of the weekend's top movies, per Friday-Sunday domestic estimates as reported by the studios and Exhibitor Relations:
(Originally published on Dec. 23, 2012, at 11:19 a.m. PT.)