IF YOU saw a movie in the suburbs yesterday, chances are it was The Hobbit. If you went to an inner-city cinema, you probably watched Les Miserables.
Most multiplexes reported that ticket sales for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey were well ahead of every other contender.
Director Peter Jackson appears to be competing with himself: he holds the top three spots for Boxing Day earnings with his Rings trilogy, released between 2001 and 2003.
But the expected runner-up, an adaptation of novel-turned-stage musical Les Miserables, could prove a winner in the inner suburbs. At Cinema Nova in Carlton, the two films were ''neck and neck''.
''Carlton is full of opera and music lovers,'' said Nova's operations manager, David Van Royen.
''It's no surprise that Les Mis is doing so well here. The Hobbit is only in front by a nose and that could change at any moment.''
The rest of yesterday's new releases are all comedies, albeit very different ones: the animated Disney flick Wreck-It Ralph, a live action crowd-pleaser, Parental Guidance, and the darkly humorous arthouse offering Sightseers.
Other likely summer hits include a novel adaptation, Life of Pi, to be released on New Year's Day, the action thriller Zero Dark Thirty on January 31 and the presidential biopic Lincoln on February 7. Since opening on November 9, the acclaimed Steven Spielberg film has grossed almost $US117 million ($A112 million) in the US.
The Tom Cruise vehicle Jack Reacher, adapted from a novel by Lee Child, opens on January 3. Reacher drew a modest $US15.6 million in its first weekend in the United States.
According to Entertainment Weekly, fans of the Lee Child character may be ''put off'' by the diminutive Cruise because Reacher ''is supposed to be physically imposing at 6ft 5in''.
Palace executive director Benjamin Zeccola said yesterday's earnings were up 10 per cent on last year's. ''It really is all about Les Miserables and The Hobbit,'' he said. ''Quartet is doing exceptionally well, too. And across all our cinemas, we're selling just as many cafe lattes as we are movie tickets.''
Marc Wooldridge, chairman of the Motion Pictures Distributors Association of Australia, said Jackson's fourth Boxing Day blockbuster would ensure a windfall.
''The initial results in other markets and the previous success of the Rings movies in Australia strongly suggest The Hobbit will outperform last year's No. 1 movie, The Adventures of Tintin,'' he said.
''There's also a much stronger and more diverse line-up this year. It will propel the total box office for the year past that of 2011.''
Forest Hill resident Alex Montgomery, 19, saw The Hobbit at the crowded Village Cinemas in Knox. ''This is the first time we've come on Boxing Day,'' she said. ''I think the traffic might have put mum off coming back next year.''