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Goblin King, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Warner Bros. Pictures

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.

Tom Cruise's Jack Reacher and Judd Apatow's This Is 40 were about as big—or un-big—as expected. 

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.

On the Road, with Kristen Stewart, scored $43,000 from four screens, while fellow Oscar hopeful The Impossible, with Naomi Watts, grossed $138,750 from 15.

Here's the complete rundown of the weekend's top movies, per Friday-Sunday domestic estimates as reported by the studios and Exhibitor Relations:

  1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, $36.7 million
  2. Jack Reacher, $15.6 million
  3. This Is 40, $12 million
  4. Rise of the Guardians, $5.9 million
  5. Lincoln, $5.6 million
  6. The Guilt Trip, $5.4 million
  7. Monsters, Inc. 3D, $5 million
  8. Skyfall, $4.7 million
  9. Life of Pi, $3.8 million
  10. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2, $2.6 million

(Originally published on Dec. 23, 2012, at 11:19 a.m. PT.)