Worldwide receipts exceed New Line's expectations

New Line’s biggest gamble ever is paying off — and how.

“The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” has returned a staggering $156 million after 12 days in 22 territories — a whisker more than pic’s domestic cume of $154.7 million.

“So we’re up and racing now,” said the studio’s delighted distribution chief, Rolf Mittweg. The worldwide receipts of $310.7 million for the first pic in the “Rings” trilogy exceed New Line’s hopes for $300 million in two weeks.

Despite pic’s three-hour running time and a worldwide release pattern designed to favor longevity over instant returns, pic is racking up B.O. records.

Pic’s Oz bow on Dec. 26, in a less competitive Christmas market than previous years, returned a record $2.09 million from 405 screens. It smashed the previous opening bow record of $1.3 million for “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace,” held since 1999. Cume in Oz is $7.2 million after one week.

Records falling

Records have fallen in New Zealand — where Kiwi helmer Peter Jackson’s trilogy was made — as well as South Africa, Denmark and Sweden. “We will know of more (territories) when the holidays are over because distributors can get to their records,” said Mittweg.

In New Zealand receipts total $2.1 million after 11 days on 92 screens; the Denmark cume is $3.8 million after 12 days on 86, South Africa $825,000 after 12 days on 83, Sweden $5.4 million from 12 days on 123.

From 12 days in Blighty, the Hobbits garnered $35 million from 1,092 screens, and in Germany, where “Rings” and “Harry Potter” have almost exclusive control of the market, pic has delivered $33.2 million from 1,070 screens.

Gaul haul is $22 million from 860 screens, Spain $14 million from 497 and Austria $3.8 million from 100.

Pic opened in Mexico Dec. 21 to deliver $7.3 million from 491, while Argentina’s bow was put on ice due to the political unrest — Mittweg expects to preem the pic there “sometime in the first quarter.”

The film, which is being distribbed by indies through most of Asia and Europe, was handled by sister company Warners in some countries, including Germany and Singapore. Pic bowed in South America Jan. 1 and will hit Italy in mid-January and Japan in February.

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