New Line and MGM's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" kicked off the holiday season in high style, opening to $84.8 million, the top three-day opening of all time for the month of December.
Will Smith's "I Am Legend," debuting on the same weekend in 2007, previously held the record with $77.2 million.
The first in Peter Jackson's planned trilogy, "Hobbit" received an A CinemaScore from moviegoers, portending good word of mouth. Warner Bros., which owns New Line, is distributing the 3D fantasy-adventure.
"Hobbit" -- based on J. R. R. Tolkien's 1937 novel and set 60 years before the events chronicled in "The Lord of the Rings" -- played older, with 58 percent of the audience over the age of 25. Males made up 57 percent of those buying tickets.
"The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," opening on Dec. 17, 2003, a Wednesday, posted a five-day debut of $124.1 million, including a weekend opening of roughly $72 million.
Some 326 Imax theaters, the favorite locale of fanboys, made up the top 10 locations for "Hobbit," generating $10.1 million in ticket sales for a location average of $31,000. Imax screens playing the film in the 48 frames-per-second format also generated strong numbers, or $44,000 per location.
Starring Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and returning Ian McKellen in the role of the wizard Gandalf form Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" films, "Hobbit" is the first in a planned trilogy.
Elsewhere, awards contenders "Lincoln" and "Silver Linings Playbook" both saw a boost from their Golden Globe nominations.
In its sixth weekend, Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" dropped less than 19 percent to come in No. 3 with weekend earnings of $7.2 million and putting its domestic total at $107.9 million. DreamWorks produced the film, while Disney has domestic distribution duties.
From David O. Russell, "Silver Linings" dropped only 4 percent to come in No. 10 with $2.1 million from 371 theaters. The film, from The Weinstein Co., saw the lowest decline of any film in the top 10, and will add more theaters on Christmas Day.