This is the first post of 2003!

‘Rings’ Likely to Lord Again Over Weekend Box Office
HOLLYWOOD (Variety) – The new year is ringing in much the same way as the old one — with a “Lord of the Rings” movie atop the box office and showing no signs of budging.
New Line’s second installment in the action-fantasy trilogy is likely to three-peat this weekend, with no other wide releases set to unspool. “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” towered over competition last weekend with $48.9 million in ticket sales compared with $30.1 million for runner-up “Catch Me if You Can” from DreamWorks.
December 2001 opener and franchise original “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings” managed to top the box office heap four times, well into January 2002. “Fellowship” was finally displaced by Sony’s platforming “Black Hawk Down.”
“Two Towers” could well match its predecessor’s winning streak. But it’s tough to say whether “Towers” ultimately will be overrun by a new wide opener or by a limited release reaching wide distribution — something that’s particularly common in awards season.
To date, “Towers” has rung up 28% more biz than “Fellowship” in a comparable span of time. And New Line executives say it appears a lock to do at least 10% more than the $860 million in worldwide box office rung up overall by “Fellowship.”
Just on the face of it, that would be quite an accomplishment. But the sequel’s box office surge is even more impressive when one considers that Warner Bros. now projects its “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” to underperform franchise original “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by about 10%.
One notable difference between the franchises is a greater continuity among the “Rings” projects, and that’s translated into a lower must-see quotient for the new “Potter” picture.
“Towers” and “Fellowship” share a narrative thread — along with next year’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” — because they are based on books written as a literary trilogy. “Harry Potter” pictures are based on individual children’s books that have characters in common but only incidental narrative connection.
“‘Potter’ is a marathon for Warners, not a sprint, because they plan to release seven ‘Potter’ pictures in all and have to sustain a continuing momentum,” observed David Davis, senior VP and box office analyst at Houlihan, Lokey, Howard & Zukin. “With ‘Rings,’ New Line knows that as well as they’re doing with ‘Two Towers,’ the next picture will do even better because it’s the final one in the trilogy.”
Moviegoing is expected to remain robust through the coming weekend, as most kids won’t head back to school from holiday breaks until at least Monday. That should help both “Towers” and “Chamber,” along with midpackers such as Miramax’s “Gangs of New York” and Paramount’s “The Wild Thornberrys,” which will be looking to sustain decent sales in a rare weekend free from newly bowing competish.
Twentieth Century Fox’s Denzel Washington vehicle “Antwone Fisher” had been set to cruise into wide release this weekend. But the platforming picture’s next expansion was recently postponed until Jan. 10.
“We wanted to give it more time to build,” Fox distribution president Bruce Snyder said.
“Two Towers” has collected north of $200 million domestically and $400 million worldwide so far. The pricey tentpole got a day-and-date bow in the U.S. and many foreign territories on Dec. 18 but has yet to bow in Italy or Japan (where it’s set to unspool in mid-January and February, respectively).
“Our goal is to be the No. 2 film of all time after ‘Titanic,’ and so far it looks like we’re on track,” said Rolf Mittweg, worldwide marketing and distribution president at New Line. “But from here on, it’s all about longevity.”
The lofty aspiration means “Towers” will have to gross more than the $986 million in worldwide sales rung up by the first “Harry Potter,” or do 15% better than the first “Rings” pic. “Titanic” grossed $1.8 billion worldwide.
“Indications are that we should be between 10% and 15% higher than (‘Fellowship’),” Mittweg estimated.
Golden Globe or Oscar wins could prove important to the picture’s further success, he said. But Mittweg added that there’s little chance of “Towers” sustaining its current torrid pace in any event.
If “Towers” were to continue to outpace “Fellowship” by 28%, the sequel would see a total $1.1 billion in worldwide coin.
“I’d take a billion,” Mittweg said.
And he just may get his wish.