'Lord' rings up $73 million in 5-day bow

New Line grabbed the box office brass ring with “Rings” this weekend, as the action fantasy marked a December-record $45.3 million in estimated three-day grosses.

First Friday-Sunday sesh for “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” followed an $18.2 million Wednesday bow and $9.7 million Thursday gross for a five-day cume of $73.1 million — best ever for the period if not a all-time five-day record.

The $90 million-plus production — first of three planned “Rings” book adapations — also launched this week in many foreign territories, where grosses have been similarly at the far high end of expectations.

“We’re very excited,” said Rolf Mittweg, prexy and chief operating officer for worldwide marketing and distribution. “All the evening shows have been sellouts and word-of mouth is amazing.”

Though he declined to project a domestic total for pic, Mittweg said a big opening assures “it will be in theaters for at least a couple of months.” Anticipated kudos should build momentum as well, he added.

New Line’s corporate big brother Warner Bros. enjoyed solid weekend grosses for “Ocean’s Eleven” (No. 2, $14.6 million) and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (No. 6, $6.2 million).

But other than a notable $14 million for Paramount’s debuting “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius” in third place, other wide openers found only limited interest amid the season’s sudden crush of B.O. competish.

Universal’s laffer “How High” managed $7.6 million from only 1,266 engagements in fifth place. And Warners/Castle Rock’s Jim Carrey starrer “The Majestic” underwhelmed with only $5 million in eighth place.

Twentieth Century Fox’s Tim Allen-toplined “Joe Somebody” opened with a minimal $3.7 million in the ninth position.

Industrywide, the three-day weekend’s total $128 million in B.O. was off 17% from a four-day pre-Christmas frame last year. In a year-to-date comparison, 2001 is still 8% head of 2000 at a total $7.71 billion, according to data from B.O. tracker ACNielsen EDI.

Warners is sure to take the top spot in studio B.O. this year with $1.15 billion and counting. But the jury is still out whether distrib can beat the 1997 Sony record of $1.26 billion.

Elsewhere this weekend, Par’s Tom Cruise starrer “Vanilla Sky” fell 52% in its second weekend to an estimated $12.1 million. And Sony’s R-rated laffer “Not Another Teen Movie” grossed an estimated $5.5 million in a 56% soph-sesh drop.

Disney’s Wes Anderson-helmed “The Royal Tenenbaums” expanded 35 playdates to a total 40 and grossed $1.2 million, or an impressive $29,638 per engagement. That boosted cume on “Tenenbaums” — an estimated $21 million production — to $1.7 million a week before ensemble laffer expands to a 240 locations.

The holiday B.O. mix will be even thicker by then, as a pair of high-profile wide bows on Christmas day: Sony’s highly anticipated biopic “Ali” and Miramax’s Meg Ryan-Hugh Jackman romancer “Kate & Leopold” open wide.

“It’s certainly difficult for a film if your marketing campaign is running at the same time as those for so many other pictures,” EDI veep Dan Marks said. “That’s a tough row to hoe.”

‘Beautiful’ gross

Also Tuesday, U’s “A Beautiful Mind” — which opened Friday with $365,000 from 11 engagements, or a beauteous $33,159 per venue — expands to 500 locations before unspooling wide Jan. 4.

U spokesman Jeff Sakson said 95% of patrons rated “Mind” either “very good” or “excellent” in exit interviews this weekend, with a notable 79% saying they would “definitely recommend” pic.

Some 75% of the patrons were age 30 or older, and “Mind” auds skewed slightly female, Sakson said.

Exit data show “Rings” drew a 78% “definite recommend” rating, with pic playing well with all demos.

“The number is astounding,” New Line distrib prexy David Tuckerman said of five-day perf. “This picture seems to tap into something with people with its theme of good vs. evil.”

A two-hour and 50 minute running time hampered the number of showtimes exhibs could screen the pic, but many theaters did offer unusual midnight showings. Also, double-booking in many of its 3,359 theaters allowed Peter Jackson-helmed epic to play on a New Line-record 5,711 screens.

Par was feeling good about continuing rosy prospects for “Jimmy Neutron,” a $23 million tooner co-prod with corporate kin Nickelodeon Films. “Jimmy” is slated to become a kids TV show on the Nickelodeon cable web.

U claimed to be satisfied enough with its “How High” bow. But it appears pic will be a tough sell beyond its core aud of young, African-American males.

Warners distrib topper Dan Fellman — who said “Ocean’s” looks to sail past $100 million on Christmas day — believes the best hope for “The Majestic” is that its core older constituency now will surface from holiday shopping and discover pic. Similarly, Fox distrib boss Bruce Snyder said family auds still could find “Joe Somebody.”

“We’re treating this weekend like it was just sneak previews,” Snyder said.

‘Land’ of healthy B.O.

In the specialty market, MGM/UA drama “No Man’s Land” broadened to 11 more theaters for a total 14 and staked out $43,000, or $3,106 per venue, en route to a further January expansion.

Miramax maintained 221 engagements for French-language “Amelie” and grossed $725,000, or $3,280 per playdate and a $13.6 million cume.

Distrib’s Sissy Spacek starrer “In the Bedroom” held in a half-dozen locations and uncovered $82,000, or a notable $13,660 average and a $609,000 cume. And its “Behind the Sun” drama unspooled in a second venue to gross $11,000 and boost cume to $19,500.

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