New Line International's TheLord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King was due to pass $500m in international ticket sales yesterday, a littleover a month after the film began its blockbusting run on Dec 17.

The final part of PeterJackson's Tolkien adaptation grossed $23.1m from 8,104 screens in 54territories at the weekend to raise its running total to $496.7m.

"By the end of the day weshould have made $500m," Rolf Mittweg, president and chief operating officer ofthe company's worldwide distribution and marketing division, told ScreenDaily.

"Weare 25% ahead of the last movie and we're marching towards the $1bn mark inworldwide ticket sales. Our distributors have worked very hard to get thismovie out and have done some unprecedented work on this film.

"We're looking forward toopening in Italy on Wednesday (Jan 21) and everybody is in Japan for the hugepremiere and opening on Feb 14."

Weekend highlights includeda $4.3m haul from 1,299 screens in the UK, where the film dropped 36% for astunning $90.2m running total. It has remained top there for the fifthconsecutive weekend.

In Australia, Return OfThe King ranked second behind theopening of The Last Samurai,elevating its total by $1.4m from 431 screens and dropping 33% for $27.9m.

In Sweden it remained topfor the fifth consecutive week and added $1.1m from 169, dropping 27% for asuperb $19.9m total.

The film has already passedthe final gross of its immediate predecessor The Two Towers (in both local currency and US dollars) in Bolivia,Ecuador, Greece, Hong Kong, Panama, Peru, Puerto Rico, Romania, Singapore,South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Uruguay, the West Indies andVenezuela.