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‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ held off ‘Anchorman 2’ on a busy weekend at the box office.

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- On a busy pre-Christmas weekend at the box office, "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" held off a very different sequel,
"Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues."

Peter Jackson’s "Hobbit" sequel took in $31.5 million in its second weekend of release for Warner Bros.

The "Hobbit" topped Will Ferrell’s "Anchorman" sequel, which nevertheless opened strongly in second place. The Paramount Pictures comedy made $26.8 million over the three-day weekend and $40 million since opening Tuesday night.

David O. Russell’s fictionalization of the 1970s Abscam investigation "American Hustle" earned a robust $19.1 million in its first week of nationwide expansion. The Sony Pictures film, starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, got a boost from its co-leading seven Golden Globes nominations.

The pre-Christmas weekend is a sought-after release date, one that usually offers films especially good legs at the box office as moviegoers flood theaters over the coming weeks. The weekend box office was up nearly 30 percent over the same weekend last year.

But this year’s holiday frame will be particularly competitive. The crowded field of movie openings Wednesday includes Martin Scorsese’s "The Wolf of Wall Street," Ben Stiller’s "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," the Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone comedy "Grudge Match," the Justin Bieber documentary "Justin Bieber’s Believe" and Keanu Reeves’ "47 Ronin."

"It is going to be one heck of a crowded Christmas Day at the movie theater," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for box-office tracker Rentrak. "This is setting up to be perhaps one of the biggest Christmas Days ever."

The family market has instead been cornered by Disney’s animated "Frozen," which added $19.2 million over the weekend.

The other Oscar-hopeful that went wide over the weekend was Disney’s making-of "Mary Poppins" tale "Saving Mr. Banks." The film, starring Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks, made $9.3 million.