The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Warner Bros. Pictures

Because it's The Hobbit.

Despite mixed reviews, talk of a "curse," and the reputed scourge of "Hobbit vomit," The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, opening in theaters midnight Friday, should be fine.

Box-office forecasts for the Peter Jackson film's opening weekend are ranging from the very big ($130 million, per to the merely big (in the neighborhood of $100 million, per Exhibitor Relations). 

One reason: The movie is opening everywhere (on 4,000-plus screens) on virtually everything.

Not unlike Star Wars fans who own six different versions of Star Wars, Hobbit audiences will be able to see the Jackson film six different ways: in 2-D, 2-D IMAX, 3-D, 3-D IMAX, 3-D HFR for "High Frame Rate," the all-new format that promises the clearest of pictures, and 3-D HFR IMAX.

All those 3-D options mean more opportunities for moviegoers to spend more money, Exhibitor Relations box-office analyst Jeff Bock points out, "around $4 a pop" more on tickets. (One small comfort, and one discomfort: The HFR 3-D versions, available at about 450 North American locations, won't cost any more than the standard 3-D versions; in big cities like Los Angeles, however, a 3-D IMAX ticket of either the standard or HFR variety will run you nearly $20.) 

Another reason behind the bullish forecast: "Pent-up demand," Bock says. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first of three planned films, marks Jackson's return to J.R.R. Tolkien nearly a decade after the release of the final Lord of the Rings movie, the Oscar-winning Return of the King.

Then there's the matter of the playing field—it's empty. There hasn't been a blockbuster new release since Breaking Dawn Part 2 opened more than a month ago.

If there's one strike against The Hobbit, it's that it's The Hobbit—it's not going to blow out the lights like a Twilight movie. The Tolkien crowd, which skews heavily toward families, is a marathon crowd. (Hence all the walking scenes in the Lord of the Rings.) Warner Bros. exec Jeff Goldstein expects The Hobbit to makes its money throughout the holidays.

"This movie really plays strongly," Goldstein says.

And, no, Goldstein isn't concerned about the HFR controversy--the studio-dismissed report that the format induces nausea and dizziness. 

Says Goldstein: "It just raises the level of people who are interested in what's going on."

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