1743690_10152048295894821_2137093463_n The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug delivered Warner Bros. its largest-ever three-day box office takings in China as the film finally debuted there over the weekend.

Some media outlets speculate that the sudden popularity of The Hobbit in China is due to intense air pollution driving the populace indoors as the government advised people to limit outdoor activities. Others suggest that it’s because Chinese just really like dragons.

Consulting firm Artisan Gateway said the film earned around US $33.7 million between Friday and Sunday — some 75% more than the opening for An Unexpected Journey last year. At the current USD-Yuan exchange rate of 0.16 to the USD, that’s 210.625 million Yuan. According to the Wall Street Journal (my Googling couldn’t find anything more recent), “the cost of a movie ticket in China can range from 20 yuan to 100 yuan… depending on location. The average price in 2010 was around 40.40 yuan, or [US] $6.40.”

Assuming an average price per ticket of 40 Yuan, that would mean around 5.26 million Chinese watched The Desolation of Smaug over the weekend. That’s an awful lot of people, yet still only a fraction of the total population of the world’s most-populous nation.

From an initial US $18.7 million take in China, An Unexpected Journey went on to total $49.7 million last year. A similar result would see The Desolation of Smaug earn almost $90 million.

Worldwide box office heading for $1 billion?

The total box office outside of North America for The Desolation of Smaug now sits at $637.1 million, and the film is yet to open in Japan — the world’s third-largest cinema market by value.

So far, The Desolation of Smaug has earned US $893 million worldwide, with US $256.6 million coming from North America.

A good result in China could push the worldwide box office past $960 million, but if Japan’s taste for Middle-earth has truly fallen away, then The Desolation of Smaug might fall just shy of the magic $1 billion mark.