Box office: ‘The Hobbit’ earns $8.8 million on Thursday night

After a strong Thursday night, Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is ready to roar at the box office this weekend, but likely won’t stand as tall as its predecessor.

“Smaug” raked in $8.8 million from late night shows on Thursday night, the second-highest midnight opening ever in the month of December. The record-holder for the biggest midnight December opening? Why, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” of course. That film earned a huge $13 million at midnight screenings in 2012.

Tracking for “Smaug” predicts it will pick up between $75 million to $80 million domestically over the weekend, and will have trouble matching “An Unexpected Journey’s” opening weekend gross of $84.6 million.

A collaboration between New Line Cinema, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Warner Bros., “Smaug” stars franchise vets Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Richard Armitage, and newcomers Luke Evans and Evangeline Lilly. 

Meanwhile, “Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas” is also opening wide this weekend, and is expected to do well in second place. David O. Russell’s all-star “American Hustle” is opening in limited release in New York and Los Angeles.

The huge holiday deluge begins in earnest next Wednesday, when the long-awaited sequel “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” opens, and “Hustle” and “Saving Mr. Banks” both expand, while Spike Jonze’s “Her” will open in limited release.

The battle for holiday viewers’ cash really heats up on December 25, when “47 Ronin,” “Grudge Match,” “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “August: Osage County,” and others, hits theaters.

Check HitFix all weekend long for box office updates.