The Hollywood Reporter -- Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is headed for a $70 million-plus opening domestically, putting it on par with the final title in the Lord of the Rings franchise.
Produced and co-financed by New Line and MGM, Hobbit hits theaters at 12:01 a.m. Friday. Warner Bros., New Line's parent company, is distributing the 3D epic, which should rack up a sizable gross by the end of the holidays.
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Overseas, Hobbit begins rolling out Wednesday, including in New Zealand -- Jackson's home country -- and France.
On the same weekend in 2003, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King opened to $72.6 million in North America, the third-best December opening after I Am Legend ($77.2 million) and Avatar ($77 million).
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring debuted to $47.2 million domestically in 2002, while The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers took in $62 million a year earlier.
The three LOTR films didn't have the advantage of being released in 3D, and Hobbit could easily overperform.
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On Tuesday, online ticketing service Fandango said Hobbit is accounting for 76 percent of all advance ticket sales (Les Miserables, which opens Christmas Day accounted for 10 percent).
According to a Fandango survey of more than 2,000 people purchasing tickets for Hobbit, 91 percent saw at least one of the Lord of the Rings movies, while more than 80 percent said they've read at least one book by author J.R.R. Tolkien.
Roughly 90 percent said they were glad to see Jackson returning in the director's chair, and 61 percent said Jackson's decision to use the controversial 48 frames-per-second technology made them more curious to see Hobbit.
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