The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has smashed U.S. box office records to become the biggest December debut in history with a massive $84.8 million (£53 million) gross.

The fantasy epic, a prequel to The Lord of The Rings franchise, beat the previous title-holders I Am Legend and Avatar, which both scored opening weekend takings of $77 million (£48.13 million) upon their respective releases in 2007 and 2009.

The Hobbit's huge haul was given an early boost thanks to an estimated $37.5 million (£23.44 million) gross on Friday (14Dec12) alone, making it the biggest U.S. opening day ever for a December release.

The film, starring Martin Freeman as hobbit protagonist Bilbo Baggins in the first installment of director Peter Jackson's new trilogy, based on the J.R.R. Tolkien tale, easily crushed the box office competition - last week's (09Dec12) number one movie, Skyfall, was a distant second with $7.1 million (£4.44 million), while the animated Rise of the Guardians placed third with $7 million (£4.38 million).

Steven Spielberg's Lincoln and Ang Lee's Life of Pi rounded out the new top five.