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Little Hobbit wins big at Christmas box office (+video)

The final installment in Peter Jackson's film trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkein's novels, "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" easily out-earned a host of other strong films over Christmas weekend.

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    The North American box office rebounded in a big way over the Christmas weekend, easing fears that the threat levied against theaters over The Interview would curb moviegoing. Leading the charge was Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Angelina Jolie's World War II drama Unbroken and Rob Marshall's musical Into the Woods.
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Audiences had their pick of genres over the Christmas weekend, but despite a host of fresh arrivals, splashy holiday fare like "Unbroken" and "Into the Woods" proved no match for "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies."

The final installment in Peter Jackson's trilogy marched to the top spot once again with an estimated $41.4 million take across the weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday.

Universal's World War II epic "Unbroken," took second place with $31.7 million from the weekend, bringing its domestic total to $47.3 million from its first four days in theaters.

"We're all thrilled," Nikki Rocco, Universal's president of domestic distribution said of the Angelina Jolie-directed drama. "It's a testament to how great this movie is. I'm so happy that America found out about it."

Added Rentrak's senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian: "The story of Louis Zamperini really offered a nice alternative for moviegoers who weren't looking for a fantasy world, a musical or a family film."

Disney's musical "Into the Woods," boasting a star-packed cast and a PG rating, came in a close third with $31 million, and $46.1 million across the four days. It replaced "Mamma Mia" as the biggest opening for a screen adaptation of a Broadway musical ever.

"To be able to take (Stephen) Sondheim and (James) Lapine's work and make it available to a mass audience? It's a great holiday gift in and of itself," said Disney's distribution Executive Vice President Dave Hollis.

The rest of the top five was populated by holdovers "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb" and "Annie" which earned $20.6 million and $16.6 million, respectively, in their second weekend in theaters.

"Their opening numbers didn't really set the world on fire, but, as we thought, they would play well over the Christmas holiday," Dergarabedian said.

Sony's "The Interview," which was also available for rental and purchase online, ultimately took in $2.8 million from 331 theaters since its opening on Thursday, with $1.8 million of that coming from the weekend.

"I'm so grateful that the movie found its way into theaters, and I'm thrilled that people actually went out and saw it," said writer, director and star Seth Rogen in a statement. Sony initially called off the release after major theater chains dropped the comedy depicting the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un due to threats from hackers. But with President Barack Obama, among others criticizing the decision, Sony officials changed their minds.

"We are very pleased with how it is doing both theatrically where we are seeing numerous sell-outs across the country, and online where it remains at the top of many charts" added Sony's president of worldwide distribution Rory Bruer. Earnings from digital rentals were not made available.

Other weekend debuts include Paramount's "The Gambler," which took seventh place with $9.3 million, and The Weinstein Company's "Big Eyes," which earned only $2.97 million across the weekend from 1,307 screens and $4.4 million from the four-day period.

In limited release, Clint Eastwood's fact-based Iraq war drama "American Sniper" also opened in four locations, taking in $610,000, while Ava DuVernay's Martin Luther King Jr. drama "Selma" opened in 19 locations to $590,000 over the three-day weekend.

Dergarabedian thinks that less impressive debuts, such as Tim Burton's awards hopeful "Big Eyes," could find an audience in the coming weeks.

"It's just very, very crowded out there," Dergarabedian said. "The audience wins, though. There is so much choice out there. If you can't find a movie to your liking in this lineup, then you just don't like movies."

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