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'Lord of the Rings' crushes box-office competitors

| Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2001

No two weekends all year arouse greater curiosity in box-office levels than the weekends leading into (or including) Christmas and New Year's.

There are big, heavily hyped films in late spring and summer, too — in fact, more of them. But the warm-weather fat cats stake out their weekends and are released one at a time — at most, two potential blockbusters at once.

The big year-end releases begin opening in mid-November. Only the healthiest (this year meaning the 8-week-old "Monsters, Inc." and the 6-week-old "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone") manage to hold on to first-run screens, at top prices, through Christmas and New Year's.

That's when anywhere from eight to a dozen new tenants, all intensely hyped, collide in projection booths everywhere. (Half a dozen other major box-office contenders hold off in most markets until January and drop in like a second falling shoe just when reinforcements are needed.)

The bull goose since opening Wednesday has been "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," which is enjoying the biggest December debut ever. It's topping the record set just a couple of weeks ago by "Ocean's 11." (Records tumble weekly at today's prices and breadth of release.)

Still, it's far short of the torrid pace set by "Harry Potter" six weeks ago.

The three-hour "Lord" tops the local and national charts by about a three-to-one margin over its nearest competition and could be doing better but for its length and the quantity of competition.

The 3-week-old "Ocean's 11" is holding onto second place locally, with a 23 percent dip in attendance. Its audience appeal is evident in its ability to fend off four of the five newcomers.

No. 3 here is "Vanilla Sky," despite a 48 percent drop locally and a 52 percent drop nationally. Word-of-mouth for the Tom Cruise movie is brutal, but it got off to such a strong start with those misleading TV ads that it has a good cushion that could carry it through another week or so.

Fourth locally is the animated newcomer, "Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius," whose prosperity makes a disconcertingly strong case for the ability to sell almost anything to children on a cable channel as potent as Nickelodeon.

Fifth is the digital video-shot "How High," with rappers Redman and Method Man," an almost unanimously panned comedy that asserted itself as the one minority film in wide release.

"Harry Potter" is sixth here with a 28 percent drop in attendance now that its toughest competitor, "Lord of the Rings," has arrived.

Seventh-ranking "Monsters, Inc." continues to hold up amazingly well, slipping just 2 percent in its eighth round and certain to prosper at matinees all week.

"Not Another Teen Movie" in its sophomore frame is registering the biggest bottoming-out of any picture in wide release. It's off 54 percent here and 56 percent nationally and placing No. 8 on the local chart.

Which brings us to the first unqualified box-office bomb of the Christmas crop: "The Majestic" with Jim Carrey at No. 9.

Misleadingly promoted as the modern equivalent of a Frank Capra comedy-drama, it gives no hint of being yet another diatribe on the McCarthy witchhunt of the early 1950s. In this case, though, moviegoers were too distracted by other options to nibble.

Tenth here is "Behind Enemy Lines," up 9 percent from last round. The films ranking 7 through 10 are tightly bunched in revenue.

The week's fifth newcomer, the comedy "Joe Somebody" with Tim Allen, is the other box-office bust. Here it could do no better than 11th place in its debut. It will be the first Christmas release to be swept aside after the holidays.

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