NEW YORK (AP) — Hollywood kicked off the New Year on a positive note, with three films vying closely for the weekend box-office title that nevertheless remained with "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" for the third straight week.
Peter Jackson's Middle-earth finale took in $21.9 million for Warner Bros. in North American theaters, according to studio estimates Sunday, narrowly edging out the Disney musical "Into the Woods" ($19.1 million) and Angelina Jolie's World War II tale "Unbroken" ($18.4 million) from Universal.
The weekend's lone new wide-release, the Relativity Media horror sequel "The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death," landed in fourth place with $15.1 million.
The first weekend of 2015 gave Hollywood the chance to begin turning the page on a rough 2014 in which box-office revenue slid 5 percent and attendance dropped to its lowest level in nearly 20 years. With a closely contested weekend at the multiplexes, overall business was strong, up 5.5 percent from the same weekend last year, according to box-office firm Rentrak.
In its second week of limited release, Sony Pictures' "The Interview" earned an estimated $1.1 million theatrically. A representative for Sony said digital figures likely wouldn't be announced Sunday.
In its first four days of online streaming and sale, the comedy made $15 million, Sony said last week. Since then, the film has expanded to video-on-demand via cable operators and on more digital platforms like Apple's iTunes.
Several Oscar contenders began to attract larger numbers of moviegoers, as Hollywood's awards season picks up stream. The Golden Globes are Sunday, Jan. 11.
Playing at 754 theaters, "The Imitation Game," the Weinstein Co.'s code-breaker thriller about World War II hero Alan Turing took in $8.1 million in its sixth week. (By comparison, "The Hobbit" played at more than 3,800 theaters.) The Reese Witherspoon drama "Wild" also added $4.5 million for a five-week $25.8 million total for Fox Searchlight.
Opening in limited release at four locations, J.C. Chandor's New York thriller "A Most Violent Year" debuted with a theater average of $47,000. The acclaimed A24 release, starring Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain, will soon expand.
Demand, though, was strongest for "American Sniper," Clint Eastwood's drama about Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper). In its second week playing in just four theaters, "American Sniper" attracted a remarkable $160,000 per-screen-average. The film opens wide on January 16.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Rentrak. Where available, the latest international numbers are also included. Final domestic figures will be released Monday.
1. "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies," $21.9 million ($52.5 million international).
2. "Into the Woods $19.1 million ($1 million international).
3. "Unbroken," $18.4 million ($2.3 million international).
4. "The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death," $15.1 million ($3.5 million international).
5. "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb," $14.5 million ($26 million international).
6. "Annie," $11.4 million ($4.2 million international).
7. "The Imitation Game," $8.1 million ($6.5 million international).
8. "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1," $7.7 million ($5.3 million international).
9. "The Gambler," $6.3 million.
10. "Big Hero 6," $4.8 million ($20.2 million international).
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at international theaters (excluding the U.S. and Canada), according to Rentrak:
1. "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies," $52.5 million.
2. "Exodus: Gods and Kings," $31.5 million.
3. "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb," $26 million.
3. "The Taking of Tiger Mountain," $23.8 million.
4. "Penguins of Madagascar," $23 million.
5. "Big Hero 6," $20.2 million.
6. "Seventh Son," $18.6 million.
7. "International Market," $18.3 million.
8. "Paddington," $12.5 million.
9. "Taken 3," $9.5 million.
10. "P.K.," $8.9 million.
Universal and Focus are owned by NBC Universal, a unit of Comcast Corp.; Sony, Columbia, Sony Screen Gems and Sony Pictures Classics are units of Sony Corp.; Paramount is owned by Viacom Inc.; Disney, Pixar and Marvel are owned by The Walt Disney Co.; Miramax is owned by Filmyard Holdings LLC; 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight are owned by 21st Century Fox; Warner Bros. and New Line are units of Time Warner Inc.; MGM is owned by a group of former creditors including Highland Capital, Anchorage Advisors and Carl Icahn; Lionsgate is owned by Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.; IFC is owned by AMC Networks Inc.; Rogue is owned by Relativity Media LLC.
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP