By Lisa Richwine and Chris Michaud
LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK (Reuters) - A small hobbit racked up big sales at movie box offices during the weekend, generating an estimated $205 million at theaters around the world with the debut of highly anticipated sequel "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug."
The second installment in the 3D "Hobbit" film trilogy earned $73.7 million of its global haul in the United States and Canada, where it easily topped weekend movie charts.
Walt Disney Co's animated fairy tale "Frozen" took the No. 2 spot, selling $22.2 million worth of tickets from Friday through Sunday, according to studio estimates from Rentrak, beating new comedy "Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas" which was third with $16 million.
"The Hobbit" grossed $131.2 million in 49 international markets from Wednesday, according to distributor Warner Bros.
Fans turned out in force for the second of three movies based on the 1937 classic J.R.R. Tolkien novel set in the fantasy world of Middle Earth. The film follows the hobbit Bilbo Baggins and a band of 13 dwarves on an epic quest that leads them to a clash with the fire-breathing dragon, Smaug.
While the film missed some pre-weekend projections for a domestic opening around $80 million and fell short of the first film's $84.6 million debut a year ago, box office analysts noted that the "Hobbit" opened in a more competitive marketplace than did the earlier film.
"The fact that 'The Desolation of Smaug' faced more competition than 'An Unexpected Journey' is notable," said Jeff Bock, senior box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations Co., "considering the original didn't have one film that grossed over $10 million when it debuted while 'Smaug' faced off against three films that topped that mark."
Analysts said any shortfall in domestic totals will be offset by a big international showing. "This second installment is poised for another run at $1 billion globally," Bock said.
Only 17 films have reached that mark, according to the Box Office Mojo website, including the first movie, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."
OVERALL TICKET SALES UP
"Smaug," which cost roughly $250 million to produce, is expected to help Hollywood finish the year close to or slightly ahead of its North American (U.S. and Canadian) ticket sales record set in 2012. Through Sunday, estimated sales for 2013 stood at $10.16 billion, compared to $10.12 billion at the same point last year, according to Rentrak.
The "Hobbit" films, produced by MGM and Warner Bros.' New Line Cinema, are prequels to the blockbuster "Lord of the Rings" franchise that brought in box office gold a decade ago. Oscar-winning "Rings" filmmaker Peter Jackson also directs the "Hobbit" films. The final film in the trilogy is scheduled to reach theaters in December 2014.
Martin Freeman stars in the series as Bilbo Baggins, and Benedict Cumberbatch voices the dragon Smaug. Cumberbatch also helped create the movements of the giant reptile through a technique called motion capture, researching komodo dragons, serpents and bats to embody Smaug's slithering and flight.
"Smaug" earned more critical acclaim than "An Unexpected Journey." Among reviews on the Rotten Tomatoes website, 74 percent of critics recommended "Smaug" as of Saturday, compared with 65 percent for the prior film.
In "Madea's Christmas," produced for about $25 million, Perry returns for the eighth time to his popular wise-cracking grandmother Madea role, coaxed into visiting a small Alabama town where she meets a man played by Larry the Cable Guy.
Two other holiday season hits - "Frozen" and "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" - continued to pull in moviegoers.
"Frozen," featuring the voice of Kristen Bell as a Scandinavian princess, brought its worldwide total to $266 million through Sunday, Disney said.
Global sales for "Catching Fire," the dystopian thriller starring Jennifer Lawrence as heroine Katniss Everdeen, earned $13.2 million domestically for the weekend, claiming the No. 4 spot. Its worldwide cumulative total climbed to $740 million, eclipsing the total sales for the first "Hunger Games" movie, according to distributor Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.
Disney's Marvel superhero sequel "Thor: The Dark World" came in a distant fifth for the weekend with $2.7 million.
(Reporting by Lisa Richwine and Chris Michaud; Editing by)