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‘Return of the King’ hits 1 billion

It now ranks as the second highest grossing film ever

“Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” already this year’s most nominated Oscar film, has become the second movie ever to break the $1 billion box-office mark worldwide, and did so in record time, distributor New Line Cinema reported Monday.

The conclusion to director Peter Jackson’s fantasy trilogy, based on the books of J.R.R. Tolkien, now ranks as the second-highest-grossing film of all time after the 1997 sea-going romance “Titanic,” which cruised to $1.8 billion in global receipts.

But “Return of the King” crossed the 10-figure threshold in less time, getting there in fewer than 10 weeks from its Dec. 17 opening, compared with the “Titanic,” which hit the billion-dollar mark as it entered its 11th week of release.

Through Sunday, “Return of the King” had accumulated a worldwide total of $1,005,380,412 in ticket sales, New Line said. More than $361 million of that sum was generated at U.S. and Canadian box office.

The epic tale of hobbits, elves, wizards and orcs was still No. 10 at the North American box office this past weekend, grossing $2.85 million Friday through Sunday, New Line said.

“The holding power and longevity at the box office I think is a real testament to the artistry and vision of Peter Jackson and his cast and crew,” said Rolf Mittweg, president of worldwide marketing and distribution for New Line, a unit of Time Warner Inc.

All three Rings films have now racked up combined receipts totaling nearly $2.8 billion globally. The first film in the series, “The Fellowship of the Ring,” ended up with $865 million worldwide after its 2001 release, while “The Two Towers pulled in $921 million a year later.

The three films were all shot together in New Zealand for about $100 million each.

Like “Titanic” before it, “Return of the King” has benefited from a bevy of Academy Award nominations. The last of the Tolkien trilogy garnered a leading 11 Oscar nominations last month, including bids for best picture and best director.

“Titanic” sailed off with an astounding 11 Oscars in all in 1998, then tying the record for most Academy Awards won by a single movie with “Ben-Hur.”