LOS ANGELES – Hobbits were lords of the box office as the opening chapter of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic fantasy took in $45.3 million Friday to Sunday for an easy No. 1 debut.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring — which opened Wednesday — also grossed nearly $28 million in its first two days. The film's five-day total was $73.1 million in the United States and Canada, according to studio estimates Sunday.
The saga of Middle-earth and a quest to destroy a ring of power that threatens all creation should top $100 million when it finishes its first week on Christmas Day, said David Tuckerman, head of distribution for New Line Cinema, which released the film.
The movie also raked in $60 million in its first five days in 15 other countries.
"With the fantasy elements and the mythological elements mixed in at this time of the year, especially with everything that has been going on in the world, I think people look forward to being transported to another place like this," said Rolf Mittweg, New Line president of worldwide marketing and distribution.
Ocean's Eleven remained the No. 2 movie for a second straight weekend, grossing $14.6 million. The animated family adventure Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius opened in third place with $14 million. Vanilla Sky, last weekend's No. 1 film, fell to fourth place with $12.1 million.
How High, with rappers Method Man and Redman as potheads at Harvard, debuted at No. 5 with $7.6 million.
Playing in 3,359 theaters, Lord of the Rings averaged an impressive $13,471 a cinema. How High had the weekend's second-best average among wide-release films, $6,003 in 1,266 theaters.
Two other new films had weak openings. The Majestic, starring Jim Carrey as a blacklisted, amnesiac screenwriter in the 1950s, was No. 8 with $5 million. Tim Allen's Joe Somebody, about a meek tech geek challenged by the office bully, debuted in ninth place with $3.7 million.
In limited release, Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind had a strong debut, grossing $365,000 in 11 theaters for a $33,182 average. Starring Russell Crowe as schizophrenic math genius John Nash, the movie expands to about 500 theaters Christmas Day.
Lord of the Rings did not break any major box-office records. Its three-hour running time and a crowded marketplace of holiday films limited the number of screenings theaters could squeeze in.
The film did have the top three-day opening ever for a movie in December, beating the previous best set two weeks ago by Ocean's Eleven.
Critics have raved about Lord of the Rings, and the movie has caught strong buzz for a best-picture nomination and other Oscar attention.
"It's one of those films where critical acclaim and mass popularity have converged, and that's a very rare thing," said box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian of Exhibitor Relations. "It's really captured a lot of people's imagination, critics and movie-goers alike."
Studios expect big business at theaters for the coming week once people finish last-minute shopping and other Christmas preoccupations. That bodes especially well for Lord of the Rings and family films such as Jimmy Neutron and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
With a total of $263.2 million in just over five weeks, Harry Potter should become the year's top-grossing film in the next few days, passing the $267.7 million taken in by Shrek.
Harry Potter should be in the $300 million range by year's end, said Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros., which released the movie.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Wednesday.
1. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, $45.3 million.
2. Ocean's Eleven, $14.6 million.
3. Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, $14 million.
4. Vanilla Sky, $12.1 million.
5. How High, $7.6 million.
6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, $6.2 million.
7. Not Another Teen Movie, $5.5 million.
8. The Majestic, $5 million.
9. Joe Somebody, $3.7 million
10. Monsters, Inc., $3.5 million.