UPDATE, Friday, 8:50 AM: The Hobbit:The Battle Of Five Armies made an estimated $9.96M Thursday, down 59%, however, such slides are usual on the second day following a solid Wednesday bow before biz picks up again on Friday. In addition, 20th Century Fox unspooled Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb in 2,531 theaters, posting $491K. Sony’s Annie starting tuning up with $360K at 2,400. Keep in mind, kids were still in school as of Thursday night with only 7% k-12 out for break and 72% out for college per Rentrak. Distribs are anticipating a reversal of fortune as kids break from school today, with those percentages moving up to 81% for kids k-12, and 92% for college by tonight. As mentioned previously, the prior Hobbits bowed on a Friday, while all three Lord Of The Rings installments opened on a Wednesday. Five Armies‘ Thursday is just a tad above Fellowship of  the Ring’s second day of $9.7M. Current domestic B.O. for Five Armies stands at $34.4M. 

'Annie' Film SetPer Fandango weekend sales, they are seeing Night at the Museum and Annie neck-in-neck this weekend. Annie is outpacing The Muppets  ($29.2M FSS), another family musical while director Shawn Levy’s Museum is outselling his fall production Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day ($18.4M weekend bow) at the same point in those films’ sales cycles on Fandango.

Previous, Thursday, 8:21AM: The holiday box office is off to a fantastic start with Warner Bros.’s The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies making a spectacular $24.5M off 3,875 theaters yesterday (including $11.2M in previews), making it the third highest opening Wednesday behind the Wednesday bows of Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King($34.5M) and Two Towers ($26.2M).

hobbit batte of five armiesFive Armies‘ solid returns come as an early sign for the distribution and exhibition community, that moviegoers haven’t slowed in the wake of The Interview controversy– from North Korean cyber-terrorists’ threats on theaters to Sony’s resolution to pull the film off the schedule. Some distribution heads expressed concern yesterday that the fallout from The Interview would still create a sense of fear in holiday moviegoers with one saying,  “I think it might not even register with moviegoers that The Interview was pulled from theaters. Rather, they’ll hear ‘threat’ and ‘movie theaters’ on the news and skip the movies all together. That would suck.”

However, most insiders believe that the marketplace is better without The Interview, which was set to bow Christmas day, than with it, and the anticipation is that the marketplace will continue to expand as it always does this time of year. By tomorrow night,  92% of all college students and 81% K-12 students are expected to be on vacation per Rentrak Theatrical. In fact, even on Tuesday when the cyber-terrorists made threats on those theaters playing The Interview, moviegoers remained unfazed, shelling out $11.2M to see Five Armies in sneak previews. Also opening wide on Friday are 20th Century Fox’s Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb in 3,873 theaters, a four-quad family threequel, that’s looking at a FSS in the mid $20Ms, as well as Sony’s Will Smith produced reboot of the Broadway musical Annie which is looking to get young girls and moms to spend $13-$15M at 3,107. In addition, a number of films that are already on marquees are expanding: Paramount’s Top Five will move from 979 to 1,300 engagements in its second frame, Searchlight’s Wild will jump from 116 hubs to 1,050 in its third sesh while Weinstein Co.’s The Imitation Game will inch up from 25 to 34 in its fourth frame before going wide on Christmas. In sum, it’s business as usual.

With the holiday box office, which spans over three weekends from this Friday until the post-New Year’s weekend, being an extremely lucrative frame with last year posting $857.1M (spurred by eight wide releases), and 2012 grossing $796.5M  (eight wide in the market), each year largely propped by Hobbit titles, many wonder whether business will slow down with one less Christmas wide release. The holiday frame this year boasts seven wide releases with Five Armies, Night At The Museum, Annie this weekendDisney’s Into the Woods, Paramount’s The Gambler, Universal’s Unbroken on Christmas and Relativity’s The Women In Black 2: Angel Of Death on Dec. 30. While Sony would not comment, analysts pegged the four-day opening for The Interview at $25M.  Says one exhibition chief about the lack of The Interview on the schedule“It wasn’t an incremental movie. The lack of it at theaters isn’t going to impact box office either way.  It wasn’t intended to be God’s gift to cinema. Now had the film remained in theaters – I believe that holiday moviegoing would have taken a hit and consumers would be scared off.”

Moviegoers’ ticket-buying habits during the holiday season will only make a turn for the worse if, as one distribution president says, “something happens (terrorist-wise) on a mass level – then all bets are off.”