New Line's The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers stayed atop of the competition in its third week in North American theatres with a $25.7m haul that gives Peter Jackson's Tolkien adaptation a mighty $261.7m running score, according to studio estimates released on Sunday (Jan 5). The second instalment in the fantasy trilogy averaged $7,082 from 3,622 theatres and has now overtaken its more youth-oriented magical counterpart, Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, which slipped to tenth place on $252m in its eighth week. With a stunning $560m in worldwide box office revenues to date, New Line executives are hopeful The Two Towers will pass $1bn and go on to become the second biggest film of all time behind Titanic, which grossed $1.8bn. The third and final episode, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, is scheduled for release in December this year.

Most of the top ten stayed in the same positions as the holiday wound down, with DreamWorks' crime caper Catch Me If You Can consolidating its second place berth with a $21.3m gross that elevates its cumulative score after 12 days to a tremendous $97.6m.

It was a decent session for the top two romantic comedies, with Warner Bros' Two Weeks Notice staying put in third on $11.6m for a $69.3m running score in its third week and Columbia/Revolution's Maid In Manhattan remaining in fourth on $9m for $76.7m in its fourth week. New Line's black comedy About Schmidt broke into the top five with $8.8m after expanding to 816 venues following its exclusive launch four weeks ago. The picture has already landed Jack Nicholson several awards for his portrayal as a widowed retiree who goes on a revelatory road trip. It rose from 22nd place last week for a $12.3m cumulative score and produced a $10,723 per-theatre average. Miramax's Gangs Of New York continued its disappointing trajectory, slipping one to sixth in its third week with a $7.4m gross for a $47.2m running total. The same distributor expanded its multi-Oscar hopeful Chicago, which rose four places to ninth in its second week on $5m for a $9.3m total.

Miramax rolled out several other Oscar contenders, including George Clooney's directorial debut Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, which went on exclusive release and took $91,789 from four venues for a laudable $22,947 average. Clooney's film of Charlie Kaufman's script of the book by game show host Chuck Barris, in which Barris claimed he was a CIA hitman, drew widespread praise and last week took best picture honours at the Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards.

Meanwhile in its second week on limited release Paramount's blue-blooded heavyweight prospect, The Hours, which stars Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore in three intertwined stories, grossed $326,000 from 11 theaters for an Oscar-worthy average of $29,636.

Estimated Top Ten US Jan 3-5, 2003

Film (Distributor)/International distribution/Estimated weekend gross/Estimated total to date

1 (1) The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (New Line) New Line International $25.65m $261.66m

2 (2) Catch Me If You Can (DreamWorks) UIP $21.3m $97.6m

3 (3) Two Weeks Notice (Warner Bros) Warner Bros $11.62m $69.3m

4 (4) Maid In Manhattan (Columbia) Columbia TriStar $9m $76.71m

5 (22) About Schmidt (New Line) New Line International $8.75m $12.25m

6 (5) Gangs Of New York (Miramax) Initial Entertainment Group $7.4m $47.15m

7 (6) Drumline (Fox) Fox International $5.6m $47.84m

8 (7) The Wild Thornberrys Movie (Paramount) UIP $5.5m $31.52m

9 (13) Chicago (Miramax) Miramax International $5.02m $9.29m

10 (8) Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets (Warner Bros) Warner Bros $4.55m $251.99m