Warner Bros’ latest visit to Middle Earth should generate $1.26B in revenues from all major sources — 3.59 times its expected costs — putting it on track to become the most profitable movie released in December, SNL Kagan says today. The research company builds a financial model for films by using early box office results to estimate likely revenues from theaters, home video, and free and pay TV deals against probable costs. To account for many variables it can’t ascertain (including distribution fees, interest, profit participation, and residuals), Kagan figures a movie will be profitable if expected revenues are 1.75 times higher than estimated costs. Those with a lower ratio but that are still higher than 1.40 times are in a gray area. Films below that are deemed likely money losers. By that standard three other December films will end up in the black: Universal’s Les Miserables ($396.7M in expected revenues/2.37 times costs), Weinstein Company’s Django Unchained ($473.2M/2.18X) and Columbia Picture’s Zero Dark Thirty ($230.7M/2.10X). Those falling short include: Paramount’s Jack Reacher ($253.8M/1.38X), Universal’s This Is 40 ($159.5M/1.14X), Fox’s Parental Guidance ($163.3M/1.12X), Disney’s Monsters, Inc 3D ($75.0M/0.77X), Paramount’s The Guilt Trip ($89.1M/0.57X), and FilmDistrict’s Playing For Keeps ($37.7M/0.28X).

That made December a pretty good month for studios: The 10 top releases are expected to average revenues that are 1.84 times higher than costs, exceeding 1.67X from 10 films in December 2011, and 1.40X from 12 films in the month in 2010. It’s behind 2009, though, when 13 films had an average profitability ratio of 1.99.

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