It was one of the biggest financial risks in the history of the movies, but The Lord Of The Rings has so far paid off handsomely for New Line Cinema. Since Wednesday, The Fellowship Of The Ring, the first in the trilogy of films, grossed $133.3m in 23 territories including North America.

The domestic gross from Wednesday (Dec 19) to Sunday (Dec 23) was $73.1m. Over the three day weekend, it took $45.25m - a record for a December opening, although only half that achieved by Harry Potter & The Sorcerer's Stone which took $90m in its first three days in November.

In 23 foreign territories, the film took an estimated $60.2m of which $39.8m was taken over the Friday to Sunday period. That includes $16m in the UK (through Entertainment Film Distributors), $13.5m in Germany (Warner Bros), $8.4m in France (Metropolitan) and $4.8m in Spain (Aurum).

New Line has been keen to stress that it was not expecting Harry Potter numbers for the film since The Fellowship is longer and aimed at an older audience. It also pointed out that Titanic opened in Dec 1997 with a $28m gross but showed a subsequent longevity which Harry Potter has failed to display. Harry Potter grossed just $6m this weekend in its sixth weekend on release in the US and Canada and is unlikely to cross the $300m barrier.

The Lord Of The Rings trilogy cost some $270m to produce; New Line will release the first sequel The Two Towers next Christmas and the finale The Return Of The King in Dec 2003.