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'King' rules again at weekend box office

'Lord of the Rings' finale nets $51.2 million; 'Dozen' opens at No. 2
/ Source: Reuters

Brisk business for reigning box office champion “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” and several new releases helped drive ticket sales to a record high for the Christmas weekend in North America, according to studio estimates issued Monday.

The third installment in the lucrative “Rings” trilogy earned $51.2 million for the three days beginning Dec. 26, driving its 12-day total to $223.7 million -- 12 percent higher than where its predecessor, “The Two Towers” was at the same time last year. Additionally, the new film has already grossed $268.4 million in 38 foreign countries.

The “Lord of the Rings” films were released by New Line Cinema, a unit of Time Warner Inc.

The Steve Martin family comedy “Cheaper by the Dozen,” a remake of the 1950 film that starred Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy, performed the best of the four new wide releases, all of which opened on Christmas Day. It grabbed the No. 2 slot with a better-than-expected $28.2 million for the weekend. Its four-day total was $36.4 million.

The film, which cost a little under $40 million, was released by 20th Century Fox, a unit of News Corp.’s  Fox Entertainment Group Inc.

The Civil War drama “Cold Mountain” opened at No. 3 with $14.5 million for the weekend, and about $19 million for the four days. The critically acclaimed adaptation of the Charles Frazier novel, which stars Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger and Jude Law, was released by Miramax Films, a unit of Walt Disney Co. A spokesman said the tallies were above expectations. The film cost about $80 million.

The Ben Affleck sci-fi thriller “Paycheck” opened at No. 4 with $13.9 million for the weekend, and $19.2 million for the four days. The figure was in line with expectations, said a spokesman for its distributor, Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc. The film cost about $60 million.

The only dud among the newcomers was “Peter Pan,” which opened at No. 7 with $11.4 million for the weekend, and $15.1 million for the four days. The $100-million film, which lost its primary family audience to “Cheaper by the Dozen” and also lacked a marquee cast, was released in North America by Universal Pictures, a unit of Vivendi Universal SA .

The top 12 films grossed $168.6 million for the weekend, according to tracking firm Exhibitor Relations. The tally represents an eight percent increase over the year-ago period, which held the record for a Christmas weekend.