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'King' continues box office reign

Frodo (Elijah Wood, left), Gollum (Andy Serkis, center) and Sam (Sean Astin) prepare to enter Mordor.

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CNN's Katherine Dorsett reports on the weekend box office take and other entertainment news.
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Following are the top 10 movies at the North American box office for December 26-28, according to studio estimates collected Sunday by The Associated Press data will be issued Monday.

1. "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," $51.2 million
2. "Cheaper By the Dozen," $28.2 million
3. "Cold Mountain," $14.5 million
4. "Something's Gotta Give," $14.2 million
5. "Paycheck," $13.9 million
6. "Mona Lisa Smile," $11.5 million
7. "Peter Pan," $11.4 million
8. "The Last Samurai," $8.4 million
9. "Bad Santa," $4.5 million
10. "Elf," $4.3 million
The Lord of the Rings

LOS ANGELES, California (Reuters) -- Hobbits held sway at movie theaters around the world over the Christmas holiday weekend as the final installment in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy powered towards $500 million after less than two weeks.

According to studio estimates issued on Sunday, "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" has grossed $492.1 million from North America and 38 countries elsewhere.

The epic fantasy is outpacing both its predecessors and should reach $1 billion, said Rolf Mittweg, president of worldwide marketing and distribution at New Line Cinema. New Line is a unit of Time Warner Inc., as is

The new film's foreign haul of $268.4 million includes $48 million from Britain, $45 million from Germany and $30 million from France. The film opened on Friday in Australia, and has already pulled in $8.7 million.

"With the release of each film, the emotional resonance and dramatic impact have only increased," Mittweg said.

Despite its success, the film has a long way to go before unseating all-time champ "Titanic," which grossed about $1.8 billion worldwide. The first film in the "Rings" series, "The Fellowship of the Ring" earned $865 million worldwide.

In North America, "The Return of the King" combined with four new releases, led by the Steve Martin comedy "Cheaper by the Dozen," to drive ticket sales to a record high for the Christmas weekend.

The top 12 films grossed $168.6 million, according to tracking firm Exhibitor Relations. The tally represents an 8 percent increase over the year-ago period, which held the record for a Christmas weekend.

"Cheaper by the Dozen," a remake of the 1950 film that starred Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy, bowed at No. 2 with a better-than-expected $28.2 million for the weekend. Since opening Christmas Day, along with the three other new films, it has earned $36.4 million.

With a cast that also includes veteran actress Bonnie Hunt, teen singer/actress Hilary Duff and uncredited tabloid staple Ashton Kutcher, the $40 million film appealed to all age groups, said Bruce Snyder, president of domestic distribution at 20th Century Fox, a unit of News Corp.'s Fox Entertainment Group Inc.

The Civil War drama "Cold Mountain" got off to a good start in the No. 3 slot with $14.5 million for the weekend, and $19 million for the four days. The $80 million film, which stars Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger and Jude Law, picked up a leading eight Golden Globe nominations earlier this month, instantly making it a key contender when Oscar nominations are announced on January 27.

Rick Sands, president of the film's distributor, Miramax Films, said key attractions were positive reviews and Kidman. The audience skewed older and female, he added. Miramax is a unit of Walt Disney Co.

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 lacked a marquee cast, was released in North America by Universal Pictures, a unit of Vivendi Universal SA. It partnered on the project with Sony Corp.'s Columbia Pictures and closely held Revolution Studios.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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