Photo: New Line CinemaThe critics be damned -- moviegoers have packed their bags for Middle-earth, and no anti-"Hobbit' sentiment is going to keep them from their "Unexpected Journey."
The first installment in director Peter Jackson's new trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien's 1937 prequel to "The Lord of the Rings" is off to a bountiful opening weekend as it's already earned a record-breaking (for December) $13 million in midnight screenings, putting it on a path that could end with an opening weekend total of more than $90 million -- an amount that would catch the attention of treasure-hoarding Smaug the Dragon himself.
That number would also make for the biggest December weekend opening of all time, eclipsing the $77.2 million weekend opening of Will Smith's "I Am Legend" in 2007.
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" opened at 12:01 a.m. this morning in 3,100 theaters over a variety of platforms (IMAX, IMAX 3D, High Frame Rate 3D, 2D ...). Peter Jackson's last Middle-earth adventure, "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," earned $8 million in opening midnight screenings on Dec. 17, 2003 -- though, to be fair, without the extra loot that comes with increased prices for both IMAX and 3D. "The Hobbit" expands today to 4,045 screens.
It would appear that "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is going to do just fine at the box office despite some heavy criticisms that have come from advance screenings. Audiences are apparently excited to return to this beloved world, despite reports of the film's overlength, middling pacing and -- most notably -- the highly dubious experimental format of being shot in 48 fps, which apparently can do everything from making sets look cheap to instigating sudden vomiting.
What remains to be seen is if this "Hobbit" will have legs after its opening weekend, staying strong through the crowded holiday season and inspiring the kind of repeat business that helped "The Return of the King" earn a domestic total of over $377 million.
The cast of 'The Hobbit' talks to Yahoo! Movies: