Hobbit' rules this date and Warner Bros. has linked this brand to this time of year very effectively. —Paul Dergarabedian, box-office analyst
LOS ANGELES — Undaunted hobbits trumped princess power at the multiplex.
Per studio estimates Sunday, Warner Bros. "Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" was No. 1 at the weekend box office with $73.7 million, besting last weekend's No. 1 film, Disney's animated fable "Frozen."
Melting down to the No. 2 position, "Frozen" earned $22.2 in its third weekend, bringing its impressive overall domestic ticket total to nearly $164.4 million. Internationally, the Disney hit gained $31.5 million.
Despite its first place position, "The Desolation of Smaug" fell short of topping its prequel's debut. "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," which opened this same weekend last year, gained $84.6 million. It earned $131.2 million in international sales.
"'Hobbit' rules this date and Warner Bros. has linked this brand to this time of year very effectively," said box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian of Rentrak.
"We had an excellent weekend," said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros. "Of course, it could have been a little better, but the weather back East was really tough last night and probably took a couple million dollars out of my pocket. But our box office will survive. We are right on target to do very similar numbers to the last 'Hobbit,' which grossed a $1 billion worldwide (overall)."
Lionsgate's holiday-themed "Tyler Perry's a Madea Christmas" came in third place with $16.2 million.
"All of the Tyler Perry movies have done in that $20 million plus range, but the weather was a factor in some of the performances of these films," said Dergarabedian.
Another Lionsgate film, "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," earned $13.2 million for the fourth place slot. To date "Catching Fire" has grossed $739.9 million, surpassing the worldwide box office total for "The Hunger Games," which brought in $691 million.
Disney's super hero sequel, "Thor: The Dark World," continues to thrive as it remained in the top five with $2.7 million, bringing its domestic total to $198.1 million.
In its second weekend, Relativity Media's redemption drama "Out of the Furnace," starring Christian Bale and Casey Affleck, dropped to the sixth place position with $2.3 million after opening in the third place slot.
Disney's comedy "Delivery Man," with Vince Vaughn as the lead, dropped in at No. 7 in its fourth weekend at the box office with $1.9 million, bringing its domestic total to $28 million.
The Weinstein Co.'s "Philomena," starring Judi Dench, who received a best-actress Golden Globe Awards nomination for her performance as a nun in search of her son, landed in the No. 8 spot at the weekend box office with $1.8 million.
In its sixth weekend at the box office, Fox's Nazi Germany-set "The Book Thief," starring Emily Watson, Geoffrey Rush and Sophie Nelisse, held the ninth position with $1.7 million.
Coming in at No. 10 was the Jason Statham and James Franco-starring Open Road crime thriller "Homefront," which gained $1.6 million in its third weekend. Its total domestic gross is now $18.4 million.
Opening in limited release in just six locations, David O. Russell's con artist tale, "American Hustle," scored $690,000 over the weekend. This aces the success of his Oscar-winning film "Silver Linings Playbook," which saw $27,687 during its opening weekend in December of 2012. "American Hustle," featuring stellar performances by Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, has been nominated for seven Golden Globe Awards and two Screen Actors Guild Awards.
The overall gross of this weekend's ticket sales is expected to surpass the $136.5 million gained the same weekend last year. "All films this weekend should estimate $145 million," said Dergarabedian.
With only a few weeks left in the year for moviegoers to populate the multiplex, the wide selection of impressive films fares well for eclipsing 2012's box office record of $10.8 billion.
"We are half a percent above last year," added Dergarabedian. "And we have a really strong crop of films with some notable titles still yet to open in wide release, like 'Anchorman 2,' 'American Hustle' and 'Saving Mr. Banks,' among others."
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Rentrak. Where available, latest international numbers for Friday through Sunday are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday:
1."Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," $73.7 million ($131.2 international).
2."Frozen," $22.2 million ($31.5 million international).
3."Tyler Perry's a Madea Christmas," $16 million.
4."Hunger Games: Catching Fire," $13.2 million ($19.5 million international).
5."Thor: The Dark World," $2.7 million ($1.3 million international).
6."Out of the Furnace," $2.3 million.
7."Delivery Man," $1.9 million.
8."Philomena," ''$1.8 million.
9."The Book Thief," $1.7 million.
10."Homefront," $1.6 million.
Estimated weekend ticket sales Friday through Sunday at international theaters (excluding the U.S. and Canada) for films distributed overseas by Hollywood studios, according to Rentrak:
1. "Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," $131.2 million.
2. "Frozen," $31.5 million.
3. "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," $19.5 million.
4. "Firestorm, "$15 million.
5. "Gravity," $8 million.
6. "Way Back Home," $4.9 million.
7. "No Man's Land," $4.5 million.
8. "About Time," $4.2 million.
9. "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2," $3.9 million.
10. "Captain Phillips," $3.2 million.
Universal and Focus are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.; Sony, Columbia, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc.; Disney, Pixar and Marvel are owned by The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is owned by Filmyard Holdings LLC; 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are owned by News Corp.; Warner Bros. and New Line are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a group of former creditors including Highland Capital, Anchorage Advisors and Carl Icahn; Lionsgate is owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; IFC is owned by AMC Networks Inc.; Rogue is owned by Relativity Media LLC.
Follow AP Film Writer Jessica Herndon on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/SomeKind