'Rings' sequel towers over box office competition

— The "Lord of the Rings" sequel dominated in its debut weekend, taking in $61.5 million -- 30 percent better than its predecessor did last year, according to studio estimates Sunday.

Altogether, "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" has grossed $101.5 million since opening Wednesday, compared to $75.1 million by "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" in the same period and $47.2 million in its first weekend.

"The Two Towers" opened in 3,622 theaters, an 8 percent increase over "Fellowship," and averaged a whopping $16,980 a cinema over the weekend, compared with $14,055 for the first film.

Debuting at No. 2 was the Sandra Bullock-Hugh Grant romance "Two Weeks Notice," which took in $14.4 million in 2,755 theaters for a $5,229 average.

Last weekend's top movie, Jennifer Lopez's "Maid in Manhattan," slipped to third place with $11 million.

Playing in narrower release, Martin Scorsese's long-delayed epic "Gangs of New York" debuted with $9.1 million in 1,504 theaters, for a $6,064 average. The movie expands to about 2,150 theaters on Christmas.

Director Peter Jackson's middle chapter in his mammoth adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy trilogy, "The Two Towers" also took in about $85 million overseas in the 26 countries where it has opened since Wednesday.

With nearly $190 million in the bank in just five days, distributor New Line Cinema expects "The Two Towers" to surpass the $860 million total worldwide gross of "Fellowship of the Ring" by 20 percent to 25 percent, said Rolf Mittweg, the studio's head of worldwide marketing and distribution.

If that comes to pass, it would be only the second movie after "Titanic" to top $1 billion at the box office. "Titanic" leads the worldwide charts with $1.8 billion, with "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" at No. 2 with $968 million.

Denzel Washington's directing debut, "Antwone Fisher," took in $217,500 in 15 theaters for a $14,500 average.

Derek Luke stars as the real-life title character, a violent Navy sailor coming to grips with his traumatic childhood.

The police thriller "Narc," starring Ray Liotta and Jason Patric, grossed $66,000 in six theaters, averaging $11,000.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at North American theaters, according to Exhibitor Relations Co.:

1. "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," $61.5 million.

2. "Two Weeks Notice," $14.4 million.

3. "Maid in Manhattan," $11 million.

4. "Gangs of New York," $9.1 million.

5. "Drumline," $7.6 million.

6. "The Wild Thornberrys Movie," $6.1 million.

7. "The Hot Chick," $4.5 million.

8. "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," $4.46 million.

9. "Star Trek: Nemesis," $4.4 million.

10. "Die Another Day," $4 million.

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