LOS ANGELES – Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson had two reasons to celebrate Thursday: The first chapter of his trilogy scored four Golden Globe nominations and put up huge numbers in its first day at theaters.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring grossed $18.2 million Wednesday on 5,700 screens at 3,359 theaters in the United States and Canada, according to distributor New Line Cinema. It took in an additional $11.5 million in 13 other countries where it opened the same day.
That does not break any major domestic box-office records, but the film did have the highest single-day take for a movie in December.
"The last six years of hard work are beginning to melt away," Jackson said by telephone from New Zealand, where he is working on the next installment, The Two Towers, due out around Christmas next year. Part three, The Return of the King, is scheduled for release at the same time in 2003.
Adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy epic about hobbits, elves, wizards and a magical ring of power, the three films were shot simultaneously at a production cost of $270 million. New Line Cinema is spending tens of millions more to market each film.
The film was nominated for best dramatic picture at the Golden Globes, and Jackson earned a directing nomination. It also was cited for score and original song.
The initial success of the first film put Jackson more at ease about New Line's huge investment. The film also has been widely praised by critics.
"There's always been obviously this huge risk, something we've had to carry on our shoulders a long time," Jackson said. "I can feel that weight lifting. That leaves me able to just totally concentrate on making the next two films. The job is to make the next film better than the first and the third one the best of them all."
Last month, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone broke single-day box-office records, grossing more than $30 million on each of its first two days. The previous single-day record had been held by Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, with $28.5 million.
Fellowship of the Ring has a three-hour running time, limiting the number of screenings theaters can fit in each day. And because it opened on 2,300 fewer screens than Harry Potter, the Tolkien epic never stood a real chance at major box-office records.
Its promising debut will be a strong lead-in through the holidays as early viewers talk up the film to friends. With Christmas and New Year's Day falling on Tuesdays, many people are taking long weekends, meaning more business for theaters.
"It's about longevity for us, which hopefully the word of mouth will build," said Russell Schwartz, New Line president of domestic marketing. "There's a lot of high-minded drama coming in the couple of weeks, but nothing like this movie, so I think we have a clear field ahead of us."