Tolkien tale tops $205 mil in 19 days, 'Imposter' can't sneak in

Those Hobbits are making a habit of winning.

For the third straight frame, New Line’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings” topped weekend box office rankings, with an estimated $23 million. Cume for “Rings,” which also copped an American Film Institute best pic win Saturday, is $205.5 million through just 19 days.

Universal/Imagine’s “A Beautiful Mind” crept to No. 2 with $17 million in its third sesh, as Russell Crowe starrer expanded to now-wide 1,853 theaters. And Disney’s “The Royal Tenenbaums” grossed an estimated $8.8 million from 751 venues, good for fifth place after two weekends in limited release.

Sony’s “Ali” had a 48% to $7.6 million in its soph-sesh. The drop raised questions about whether it can go the distance. Will Smith starrer, produced for well over $100 million, punched up cume to $50.1 million but will need lots of kudos heat to sustain a profitable run.

Frame was strengthened by the staying power of holiday holdovers. Those included Warner Bros.’ “Ocean’s Eleven,” which grossed $11.8 million in third place, and Paramount toon “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius,” one rung back with $9.2 million.

More upbeat was the estimated $7.4 million contribution in seventh place from Par’s “Vanilla Sky,” the quirky Tom Cruise starrer critics couldn’t kill. “Sky” has grossed $81.4 million through four weekends.

Sesh was marked by an industrywide 6% uptick from the first weekend of 2001 to $127.8 million in total grosses, according to data from B.O. tracker ACNielsen EDI. Perf is traceable to strong expansions by previous limited openers.

‘Impostor’ not imposing

Frame boasted only one wide opener — Miramax/Dimension’s sci-fier “Impostor,” which finished out of the top 10 with an estimated $3.2 million from 1,870 playdates. Ho-hum reviews and a crowded marketplace seemed to conspire against the Gary Sinise-starrer, which was delayed from a skedded Christmas debut.

Miramax’s “Kate & Leopold” romancer fell a modest 31% in its soph sesh to $6.7 million in eighth place. But it remains unclear whether Meg Ryan/Hugh Jackman starrer can muster holiday sleeper perf distrib was hoping for.

Imagine co-topper Brian Grazer said “Mind,” helmed by partner Ron Howard, has been served well by its platformed introduction nationally.

“Clearly, it was the way to go,” Grazer said.

Exit polls show more than 96% of patrons rated pic “excellent” or “very good,” the same beautiful scores enjoyed when “Mind” was only in limited release, he noted.

The “Tenenbaums” perf repped an impressive $11,868 per location a week before ensemble laffer expands to 900 engagements.

Platform campaign

Mouse distrib boss Chuck Viane called “Tenenbaums” a “smart” laffer of the sort best served by a platformed campaign.

“You want to give the film an opportunity to build to its widest point,” Viane said. “If you just go out to the widest point from the start, you run the chance of its dissipating too soon.”

Wes Anderson-helmed pic now has a cume matching its estimated negative cost, at $21 million.

Two pics bow in wide release Friday — Miramax actioner “The Accidental Spy” and Paramount laffer “Orange County.”

Teen drama “Snow Dogs,” which Disney said drew 85% capacity auds to a series of sneaks this weekend, debuts the following frame, one of several wide openers set for the long Martin Luther King holiday sesh.

Warners’ “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” marked a big benchmark this weekend, as family blockbuster took in $6.1 million in ninth place to fly cume to $300.6 million. Perf reps a first-ever $300 million pic for distrib.

“It’s been a hell of a year,” said Dan Fellman, distrib boss at Warners, which topped domestic market share in ’01.

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