PETER Jackson's The Hobbit led the box office with a haul of $84.8m (€64m), a record-setting opening better than the three previous Lord Of The Rings films.
The Warner Bros Middle-earth epic was the biggest December opening ever, surpassing Will Smith's I Am Legend, which opened with $77.2m (€58m) in 2007, according to studio estimates yesterday.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey also passed the December opening of Avatar, which opened with $77m (€58m).
Internationally, The Hobbit also added $138.2m (€104m), for an impressive debut well north of $200m (€152m) in total.
Despite weak reviews, the 3-D adaptation of JRR Tolkien's first novel in the fantasy series was an even bigger draw than the last Lord Of The Rings movie, The Return Of The King.
The Hobbit is the first of another planned trilogy.
While Jackson's Rings movies drew many accolades -- The Return Of The King won best picture from the Academy Awards -- the path for The Hobbit has been rockier. It received no Golden Globes nominations on Thursday.
Particularly criticised has been the film's 48-frames-per-second (double the usual rate), a hyper-detailed look that some have found jarring. But the film was a hit with audiences, who graded the film with an "A'' CinemaScore.
"What's really important, what makes this special is the CinemaScore," said Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution for Warner Bros. "All these things point to a great word of mouth. We haven't even made it to the Christmas holidays yet. Kids are still in school this week."
The strong opening culminated a long journey for The Hobbit, which was initially delayed when a lawsuit dragged on between Jackson and Rings producer New Line Cinema over merchandising revenue.