LOS ANGELES – The season of smarter cinema continues as classy Oscar hopefuls such as The Lord of the Rings, A Beautiful Mind and The Royal Tenenbaums packed in audiences.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring grossed $23 million to remain the No. 1 movie for the third straight weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday. The movie pushed its total to $205.5 million in just 19 days, becoming a record sixth film released in 2001 to cross the $200 million mark.
A Beautiful Mind, starring Russell Crowe as schizophrenic genius John Nash, expanded to wide release and climbed to second place with $17 million.
The Royal Tenenbaums, with Gene Hackman as the outcast patriarch of a family of brilliant failures, also went into more theaters after a stellar run in limited release. The film came in at No. 5 with $8.8 million.
"I think what audiences are looking for is something smart and funny, and we delivered on both those scores," said Chuck Viane, head of distribution for Disney, whose Touchstone Pictures banner released Royal Tenenbaums.
With $6.1 million over the weekend, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone edged past $300 million, the first movie since Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace to hit that level. Harry Potter also has climbed to No. 10 on the list of all-time top-grossing films domestically, knocking off The Sixth Sense.
The weekend's only new film, Gary Sinise's sci-fi tale Impostor, opened weakly with $3.2 million, finishing well out of the top 10.
A Beautiful Mind, The Royal Tenenbaums and Fellowship of the Ring scored early triumphs Saturday in Hollywood's awards season. Fellowship of the Ring dominated the new AFI Awards, winning for best picture and taking two technical awards. Hackman won the supporting-actor award, and A Beautiful Mind co-star Jennifer Connelly earned the supporting-actress prize.
A Beautiful Mind and Fellowship of the Ring are among leading nominees for the Golden Globes on Jan. 20, while Hackman has a lead-actor nomination in the Globes' musical or comedy category.
Such honors become marketing tools for adult-oriented films like Beautiful Mind and The Royal Tenenbaums, whose distributors rolled them out slowly, counting on Hollywood honors and strong buzz from audiences.
"The best selling tool for the film was the film itself," said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal, which released A Beautiful Mind. "We wanted to go slowly and have time to get that word-of-mouth generated."
Playing in 751 locations, Royal Tenenbaums averaged an impressive $11,686 a theater, while A Beautiful Mind averaged $9,190 in 1,853 sites.
Other awards contenders continue to do well as they gradually move into more theaters after narrow December debuts to qualify for the Oscars.
In the Bedroom, which earned the AFI best-actress award Saturday for Sissy Spacek, grossed $1.7 million in 207 theaters for an $8,213 average. Gosford Park, which took the AFI best-director prize for Robert Altman, did $1.5 million in 131 theaters, averaging $11,687.
"This tells you the strategy of releasing the films before the end of the year in a limited number of theaters then expanding them in January is a good approach on these unique films that need that kind of nurturing," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc. Final figures will be released Monday.
1. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, $23 million.
2. A Beautiful Mind, $17 million.
3. Ocean's Eleven, $11.8 million.
4. Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, $9.2 million.
5. The Royal Tenenbaums, $8.8 million.
6. Ali, $7.6 million.
7. Vanilla Sky, $7.4 million.
8. Kate & Leopold, $6.7 million.
9. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, $6.1 million.
10. Monsters, Inc., $4 million.