Dear 'Lord!' 'Rings' Towers Over the December Box Office
by Brandon Gray
December 19, 2002
There may only be one ring to rule them all, but there are at least two movies to utterly dominate the holiday box office: the first was last year's The Fellowship of the Ring with its $313,364,114 final haul and now it's The Two Towers if its first day in theaters is any indication.
The Two Towers pulled in an estimated $26,000,000 on Wednesday from its saturation release on 6,633 screens at 3,622 theaters. Distributor New Line Cinema may even be underestimating as rival studios have it pegged at over $27 million based on the $21,800,418 it generated at 2,526 theaters reporting to Nielsen EDI, the firm that tabulates over 80% of the nation's theaters' box office revenue for the industry. Actual numbers for Wednesday and Thursday will be available Friday.
Nonetheless, that $26,000,000 shatters the $18,214,000 December opening day record that The Fellowship of the Ring set last year at 3,359 venues and around 5,700 screens ($4 million of which came from midnight screenings though there's no word on Two Towers' breakdown yet). It also stands as the sixth biggest opening day ever and the second highest Wednesday bow behind Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace's $28,542,349 at 2,970 sites and around 5,000 screens on May 19, 1999.
The Fellowship of the Ring went on to break the December opening weekend record as well with $47,211,490—generating $75,129,468 in its first five days. If The Two Towers were to follow the same pattern, that $26 million would point to a $67 million weekend. However, being a sequel with even more rabid fandom than the first, it's likely more frontloaded. Perhaps a closer analog would be The Phantom Menace. Its Wednesday start led to a $64.8 million weekend. A comparable trajectory would give The Two Towers $59 million for the weekend and $97 million after 5 days.
In the days leading up to release, The Two Towers's industry tracking numbers were through the roof. Its awareness level among the public was at over 99% and around 80% had it pegged as their first choice to see among all movies in release and coming out this weekend. Those numbers were basically as highly rated as a movie can be—just a smidgen shy of Spider-Man, the Harry Potter movies and Attack of the Clones, which each scored opening weekends of $80 million and greater.
With slightly lower tracking than The Two Towers, Pearl Harbor posted the opening weekend record for three hour movie on Memorial Day weekend 2001—$59,078,912 at 3,214 theaters. The Two Towers has an excellent shot at topping this, a feat that would be made more impressive by the fact that December is far less conducive to sky high debuts than May.
Additionally, New Line reports that The Two Towers rang up an estimated $15.6 million overseas at 5,000 screens in 14 countries on Wednesday—42% better than Fellowship's international debut at 4,300 screens. That prodigious start led Fellowship to a foreign haul of over $547 million—the fourth biggest of all time. For a detailed breakdown of Two Towers's international debut, click here.
New Line will not be releasing actual numbers for The Two Towers until Friday (for Wednesday and Thursday). The reason is that there are some inconsistencies that they're trying to reconcile. All Two Towers numbers you have seen or will see until Friday late morning/early afternoon Pacific time are ESTIMATES, even though some reporting them won't indicate them as such.