The Hobbit, the latest installment in the Lord of the Rings franchise grossed $84.8 million during its first three days in theaters, according to an estimate from distributor Warner Bros.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the figures are well below industry expectations - which predicted the film would debut with anywhere between $120 million and $140 million.
The Hobbit may not have earned as much as its producers had hoped but the weekend gross is still the biggest one ever for the month of December - not adjusting for inflation - even bigger than James Cameron's Avatar.
Warner Bros. exec Dan Fellman told E! News that the figure isn't higher because pre-Christmas films don't do as well at the box office as films released in May or July or November.
"We'll have a much broader audience once the kids get out of school," Fellman predicted.
Entertainment Weekly reports that The Hobbit still has a long way to go to catch up with the domestic totals of the other Lord of the Rings films, which grossed above $300 million from 2001-2003 without a boost from 3D or IMAX prices.
Reviews for the film have been generally positive but some critics were not happy with director Peter Jackson's decision to use an ultra-fast frame rate.
Several hundred theaters are showing the film at 48 frames-per-second, which is twice as fast as the 24 frames-per-second movies are typically shown at. Critics said the rate made the film ultra-realistic and too much like a BBC television production, reports the LA Times.
Greg Foster, chairman and president of IMAX, told the LA Times that theaters showing the movie at 48 frames-per-second outperformed screens playing it in different formats.
In North America, the per-screen average for 48 frames-per-second locations was $44,000 vs. $31,000 for the slower format.
“I do think we have a very specific fanboy, geek-based audience -- the guys who like to stand in line to see these things first,” said Foster.
“Most IMAX fans are less focused on actors and more focused on directors, and Peter Jackson has been such a strong advocate of 48 frames. There was a real interest to see it this way, and we didn’t have one complaint all weekend.”