In fact, the race was so close that it was impossible to call until Monday, when final weekend figures were released. The final tally shows that Return of the King came in first with $14.2 million* while Big Fish crossed the line second with $13.8 million.
But estimates made Sunday--when studios make projections on how big an audience their films will pull in on the last day of the weekend--painted a different picture. Sony Pictures yesterday estimated that Big Fish had taken in $14.5 million, which would have been enough to dethrone Return of the King, which had posted a $14.1 million take.
The paltry $400,000 separating the top films had many pundits predicting that the rankings would flip once the final figures were released--and that's precisely what happened.
Big Fish, which debuted in only six theaters Dec. 10, expanded to 125 theaters Christmas day and took in a $2.5 million last weekend alone, averaged a monstrous $20,355 per theater. This weekend saw Big Fish's first wide expansion as the film played across 2,406 screens.
But Return of the King's take was enough to keep it at the No. 1 position for a fourth straight week and enough to push it passed the $300 million mark.
Meanwhile, Cheaper by the Dozen, which claimed third place with a still strong $12 million, became the 26th 2003 film to cross $100 million.
This week's two other wide releases, the romantic comedy Chasing Liberty and the urban comedy My Baby's Daddy failed to make the Top Five. My Baby's Daddy, which opened in only 1,447 theaters, came in sixth with an expected $7.8 million, while Chasing Liberty debuted at No. 7 with a rather constrained $6 million.
THE TOP TEN
New Line Cinema's PG-13 rated fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King retained its No.1 title in its fourth week of release with an ESTIMATED $14.1 million (-50%) at 3,532 theaters (-171 theaters; $3,706 per theater). Its cume is approximately $312.2 million.
Sony's PG-13 rated drama Big Fish expanded to 2,406 theaters in its fifth week of release to take second place with an ESTIMATED $13.8 million with a $6,027 per theater average. Its cume is approximately $24 million.
In the film, a son comes to understand his father through the older man's fantastic stories.
Twentieth Century Fox's PG rated family comedy Cheaper by the Dozen dropped one notch to third place in its second week of release with an ESTIMATED $12 million (-45%) in 3,238 theaters (-171 theaters; $3,706 per theater). Its cume is approximately $101.3 million.
Sony Pictures' PG-13 rated romantic comedy Something's Gotta Give followed the trend and dropped one spot to fourth in its fifth week of release with an ESTIMATED $8.2 million (-30%) at 2,876 theaters (+68 theaters; $2,851 per theater). Its cume is approximately $92.8 million.
Miramax Films' R rated Civil War drama Cold Mountain fell a notch to fifth place in its third week of release with an ESTIMATED $7.9 million (-32%) at 2,302 theaters (+68 theaters, $3,438 per theater average). Its cume is approximately $55.3 million.
Miramax's R rated comedy My Baby's Daddy kicked off in sixth place with an ESTIMATED $7.8 million in 1,447 theaters with an impressive $5,417 per theater average.
In the film, three bachelor buddies are in for a rude awakening when their girlfriends all get pregnant at the same time.
*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.
Warner Bros.' PG-13 rated romantic comedy Chasing Liberty debuted in seventh place with an ESTIMATED $7.8 million at 2,400 theaters with a $2,506 per theater average.
In the film, the 18-year-old daughter of the president of the United States runs off on a romantic adventure during the family's European getaway.
Paramount Pictures' PG-13 rated sci-fi thriller Paycheck fell three positions to No. 8 in its third week of release with an ESTIMATED $5.2 million (-47%) in 2,762 theaters (unchanged; $1,883 per theater). Its cume is approximately $46.4 million.
Warner Bros.' R rated period actioner The Last Samurai fell one rung to ninth place in its sixth week of release with an ESTIMATED $4.5 million (-46%) in 1,901 theaters (-500 theaters; $2,838 per theater). Its cume is approximately $97.1 million.
Sony Pictures' PG-13 rated drama Mona Lisa Smile dropped three notches to round out the Top Ten in its fourth week of release with an ESTIMATED $4.5 million (-46%) in 2,500 theaters (-214 theaters; $1,800 per theater). Its cume is approximately $57 million.
This week, the Top 12 films grossed an estimated $92.4 million, down about 23 percent from last week's $120.1 million, but up 4.9 percent from last year's $88.1 million.
Last year, 20th Century Fox's PG-13 rated comedy Just Married opened at No. 1 with $17.5 million in 2,766 theaters, a $6,345 per theater average; New Line's PG-13 rated The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers dropped to No. 2 in its fourth week with $14.7 million in 3,477 theaters (-145 theaters; $4,244 per theater); and DreamWorks' biopic Catch Me If You Can held on to third place in its third week with $14.6 million in 3,225 theaters (+55 theaters; $$4,537 per theater).