December 22, 2001

Rings Storms Into Theaters
Staff Reporter

LOS ANGELES (Reuters): The power of the ring may include the power to make box office records disappear - not to mention change movie-mogul attitudes about the drawing power of hobbits.

The epic fantasy The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring grossed a hefty $US18.2 million at the domestic box office on Wednesday, its first day in theatres in what the studio New Line Cinema said was the biggest take ever for a single day in December.

It also marked the third-biggest Wednesday opening for any film in North America, after Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, which grossed $US28.5 million its first day on May 19, 1999, and Jurassic Park III, which notched $US19 million on July 18 of this year, according to box office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations.

"For a movie with a three-hour running time opening in the middle of the week, this has to be considered a great success for New Line," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations. "If these numbers are any indication of the interest of the movie-going public, they're going to have a big hit on their hands this weekend."

The film, directed by Peter Jackson and based on the first novel in J.R.R. Tolkien's classic trilogy, opened on more than 5700 individual screens in 3359 theaters around the United States and Canada.


Fellowship of the Ring also debuted on Wednesday in 13 other countries where it grossed a total of $US11.5 million, including a single-day record take in South Africa, where Tolkien was born, New Line said.

The film stars British actor Ian McKellen as the wizard Gandalf the Gray and Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins, the hobbit with the job of destroying the dark lord Sauron's ring of power and saving Middle-earth.

New Line distribution president David Tuckerman said Fellowship of the Ring was benefiting from the glowing reviews the movie has received, as well as from the built-in fan base of devoted Tolkien readers. But he said the box office figures show the film has gone far beyond a cult following.

"There weren't that many Tolkienites to make it to 18 million," he said. "We've hit America."

He said Fellowship of the Ring audiences initially were skewing older than for those who flocked to another blockbuster fantasy, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, based on the first of J.K. Rowling's wildly popular children's books.

"So far, you're getting more adults. However, we opened on a Wednesday, it's a non-holiday and kids are still in school," Tuckerman said. "This weekend, you'll be able to see in the matinees exactly who is coming."

By comparison, Harry Potter grossed $US32.3 million on its first day, Friday, November 16, and $US33.5 million the following day, both figures surpassing the previous all-time single-day record of $US28.5 million held by Phantom Menace.