Buena Vista International (BVI) executives are saying Finding Nemo should pass $500m at the international box office by Friday (Jan 23) after last weekend's $7.3m haul raised its total to $496.9m.

The animated hit had a chance of reaching the half-billion milestone last weekend but ultimately it was New Line International's The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King that crossed the line first.

Peter Jackson's trilogy finale passed the mark on Jan 20 and goes into the weekend session with a staggering $502.3m running total after scarcely five weeks on release in international markets.

Already running 25% ahead of predecessor The Two Towers at the same stage, Return Of The King opens in Italy through Medusa Films and Russia through Warner Bros on Jan 22 - both on an unspecified number of screens.

Strong bows seem assured. The Two Towers grossed $26.9m in Italy and $8.9m in Russia last year and could well outperform both final grosses, bearing in mind Return Of The King's bullish box office form.

Warner Bros' Japan-set drama The Last Samurai should continue its strong global surge and executives will be looking for strong holdovers to boost its $157.6m international running total.

Elsewhere Columbia TriStar Film Distributors International (CTFDI) has a huge weekend lined up and will release 11 different titles in various markets.

The drama Mona Lisa Smile, which as of Jan 19 had notched up industry-wide international ticket sales of $15m, opens in Germany on Jan 22 on 553 prints, France on Jan 21 on 398 and Brazil on Jan 23 on 153.

Tim Burton's drama Big Fish goes out in the UK on Jan 23 on a limited 17 print platform release before going wide on 361 from Jan 30 - its first international release - and action romp The Rundown opens in Spain and Mexico on Jan 23 on 300 and 275 respectively. The Rundown has amassed $11.3m in CTFDI markets so far.

Underworld opens in Australia on Jan 22 on 175 and should at least do modest business, bearing in mind the decent bow for Blade 2 ($1.9m and second place in the week of Jul 11-17 2002). CTFDI only has rights for Underworld in Australia and New Zealand, where the supernatural tale took $565,000.

BVI opens Scary Movie 3 in the UK on Jan 23, which should produce a decent opening considering the lack of like-minded comedies doing the rounds in the UK and the fact that its predecessor opened second in September 2001 on $2.3m from 407 theatres.

Haunted Mansion opens in Germany and Austria on Jan 22 and BVI executives will look to Brother Bear to build on its promising $37m running total with small bows in Hong Kong on Jan 22 and Poland a day later.

Fox International opens the comedy Stuck on You in Spain on Jan 23 on 275 prints, which along with smaller bows in Belgium and Greece should push the film past $15m. It has grossed $14.4m to date.

The adolescent crisis drama Thirteen opens in Mexico on Jan 23 on 25 and has amassed $3.2m in the markets so far, including the UK where the distributor does not have rights. Fox International will also open the maritime drama Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World in China on Jan 23 on 150 prints. The film has taken $86.8m through all distributors.

Universal's only major opening of the weekend will be the romantic comedy and number one US film Along Came Polly in Australia through UIP on Jan 22 on 275 prints. Aniston's popularity Down Under should serve the film well.