The opening surpassed that of the current highest grossing film of all time, "Avatar", which raked in $72.9 million (US$77 million) it's opening weekend, as well as the most recent December record set by Will Smith sci-fi flick "I Am Legend," which pulled in $73.1 million (US$77.2 million) when it debuted in 2007.

"The best we were hoping for was to reach or exceed the $77 million set by that movie and we did it by quite a lot. It was all good and we're very happy about it," said Dan Fellman, president of theatrical distribution for Warner Bros.

"You have to assume that by the time this first week is over we are going to have around $110 million in the bank before the holiday even starts," he added.

Director Peter Jackson's previous highest record was for "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," which earned $68.76 million (US$72.6 million) when it opened in 2003.

"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" also rung up sales of $130.9 million (US$138.2 million) in international markets. Global receipts for the prequel to the smash "Lord of the Rings" trilogy stood at $211.19 million (US$222.97 million) through Sunday, distributor Warner Bros. said.

The 3D "Hobbit" directed by the Oscar-winning Jackson is the first of three films based on a 1937 classic novel by J.R.R. Tolkien. Warner Bros. is aiming to build on the success of the "Rings" series, one of Hollywood's biggest franchises with $2.75 billion in global ticket sales.

The "Lord of the Rings" movies debuted in theatres from 2001 to 2003. After that, production on "The Hobbit" ran into delays, leaving fans waiting a decade for another look at the fantasy story of dwarves, wizards and elves.

The new film follows the epic journey of hobbit Bilbo Baggins, played by Martin Freeman, as he travels through the treacherous Middle Earth with a band of dwarves to steal treasures from the dragon Smaug.

The movie also stars Richard Armitage and Benedict Cumberbatch, while Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett and Elijah Wood reprise their "Rings" roles.

Opening-weekend audiences embraced "The Hobbit," awarding an "A" grade in polling by survey firm CinemaScore. Critics had a mixed response to the nearly three-hour film. Sixty-five percent of reviews on the Rotten Tomatoes website recommended the movie, although some objected to Jackson's decision to shoot it using a 48-frames-per-second format rather than the usual 24.

The Hobbit is in Australian cinemas on December 26th.

(AUD$1 = US$1.06)

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