Warner Bros.-New Line's "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" began its global domination at the box office Wednesday before arriving in the U.S. on Friday for what is expected to be an $80 million-plus weekend Stateside.
Peter Jackson's "Hobbit" sequel, opening in 49 foreign territories Wednesday, earned $2.8 million in France on Wednesday to become the No. 1 movie in the region.
Domestic expectations for "Smaug," meanwhile, are on track to perform in line with the original, which grossed $84 million this time last year.
"The Hobbit" launches in the U.S. Thursday at midnight.
Internationally, "Smaug" is tracking lower than the first film's $139 million overseas start, but that's because Warners is launching the sequel in fewer day-and-date territories than "An Unexpected Journey," which debuted in 56 markets. That said, word-of-mouth has been strong for the sequel, meaning it could overperform this weekend in the major markets like Germany, Italy, South Korea, Spain and the U.K.
Moreover, "Smaug" will have a larger footprint in the premium-priced high-frame-rate format, with an estimated 3,000 HFR-capable locations overseas -- nearly twice the number of total screens for the premium format for the first "Hobbit" film.
Exhibitors and box office observers anticipate "Smaug" will match, at least, its predecessor's $303 million domestic tally. The sequel also is expected to reach the $1 billion global total set by the first film.
The film's overseas rollout kick-starts in eight major markets, with several others including Australia and Russia set for next weekend. Japan launches the film in late February. (Warners still is waiting on official confirmation out of China.)
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