LOS ANGELES (AFP) - “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” a prequel to the blockbuster “Lord of the Rings” series, earned $84.6 million at the weekend, one of the year’s biggest debuts, industry data showed.

Internationally, the film earned $138.2 million, for a global estimated total of $223 million, including a record-breaking $15.1 million from IMAX theaters worldwide, according to New Line Cinema, which said it was the biggest opening for any “Lord of the Rings” film.

Box office watchers said it was the biggest December opening in motion picture history. The film stars Martin Freeman of British TV’s “Sherlock” fame and Ian McKellen, reprising his role as Gandalf the Grey, and was directed by Peter Jackson based on the classic books by J.R.R. Tolkien.

In second place was “Rise of the Guardians,” a Dreamworks holiday confection featuring Jack Frost, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman and a tattooed Russian Santa Claus, among other unlikely characters. Industry tracker Exhibitor Relations said it earned $7.1 million.

Third place went to “Lincoln” - starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th US president, which earned $7.0 million. The film got a bump after earning seven Golden Globe nominations last week, the most of any film. “Skyfall,” last week’s top film, and the 23rd episode of the spy thriller series, was fourth with $6.6 million.

The fifth place spot was claimed by “Life of Pi,” a 3D fantasy by Oscar-winning director Ang Lee based on a Booker Prize-winning novel about an Indian boy adrift on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger in the Pacific. It earned $5.4 million.

“The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn,” the last installment in the wildly popular vampire series, was sixth with $5.1 million.