Buoyed by overwhelmingly positive critical reviews (estimated at 98% positive by Rottentomatoes.com) and pent-up demand for the finale to the most popular fantasy film series of all time, Return of the King, the final chapter in Peter Jackson's screen adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings saga, set a new box office record for a Wednesday opening by pulling in an estimated $34.125 million dollars from 3,703 theaters.  Return of the King's performance completely eclipsed the previous record of $28.5 million set by Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.  The previous film in Jackson's LOTR trilogy, The Two Towers, had been second on the list of Wednesday openers with a $26 million total.  The $8 million difference between The Return of the King and The Two Towers was almost identical to the jump between The Two Towers' opening day gross and that of the first LOTR film, Fellowship of the Ring, which earned $18 million.  The Return of the King not only had the biggest Wednesday in movie box office history, it was also the biggest single day in December and the third biggest opening day of all time.


The worldwide first day take for the Return of the King was an estimated $57.6 million.  In addition to trouncing records here in the States, the film also broke box office marks in the United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, and Scandinavia. Some industry analysts are predicting that The Return of the King could eventually bring in $1 billion in box office revenues (and perhaps even more on video) worldwide.  One thing that could broaden the audience for the film and keep it going well into the spring would be an Academy Award for best picture.  Although no fantasy film has accomplished this yet, Return of the King did win the New York Critics award and has received a Golden Globe nomination for 'best picture.' Don't count it out come Oscar time.