In its first three days on release in Japan, The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers grossed $9.66m (Y1.13bn) from 800,000 admissions. This represents a 25% improvement over the opening of The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring.

The success brings the second installment of Peter Jackson's fantasy trilogy to the cusp of a $500m international total. As of Sunday (Feb 23) The Two Towers had taken $498m internationally. In the US, the film has grossed more than $328m.

The film will easily pass the magic box office watermark - an achievement only made by six other titles ever - this week.

Fellowship took almost another month to reach the same amount, passing $500m over the March 22-24 weekend in 2002. In total the first film claimed $548.5m from international markets.

The Two Towers's all-night previews in Japan, on 600 screens on February 15,earned $2.65m (Y310m) from 200,366 admissions, for gains of 42% and 50%, respectively, over the previous film.

Distributors Nippon Herald and Shochiku expect The Two Towers to finish over the $128m (Y15bn) mark. By comparison, The Fellowship Of The Ring ended its run with $77.5m (Y9.07bn), ranking behind the two Harry Potter films on the 2002 box office chart.

The Two Towers has already surpassed Fellowship's total earnings in 33 countries, including Norway and Denmark where it now ranks as the highest grossing film of all time. The sequel has still to open in a handful of territories with Romania next up on Feb 28, followed by India (March 14) and Venezuela (April 9).

The third entry in the trilogy, The Return Of The King, begins its international roll-out in December this year and will hit theatres in Japan in the spring of 2004.

Additional reporting by Robert Mitchell in London