The UK saw a strong start to 2004, despite a lack of new openers willing to go up against Return Of The King, with results for the first weekend of the year up 17% against the first weekend of 2003.

The top three titles remained unchanged with the third part of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy slipping just 9% from the previous week to easily hold the lead and bring its cumulative score to a massive $75m (£41.9m).

Fox's Stuck On You was the highest grossing new entry in fourth with a good showing for the Farrelly Brothers' comedy which included preview figures of $126,098 (£70,489) from 224 sites.

The most impressive launch of the week was Optimum Releasing's critically lauded American Splendor. The comedy drama, about the life of American underground comic book writer Harvey Pekar, opened at 38 sites taking a $6,383 location average. In London's West End the film placed fourth with $111,411 (£62,279) at 13 sites - a $8,570 average.

The film stars Paul Giamatti at Pekar and Hope Davis as his wife Joyce, intercutting with narration and commentary from the real Pekar. It is a great result to start the year for the independent distributor which has a strong line-up over the next couple of months including Gus Van Sant's Cannes Palme d'Or winner Elephant (Jan 30) and the Thanksgiving-set Pieces Of April (Feb 20), which is generating awards buzz for Patricia Clarkson as supporting actress, starring alongside Katie Holmes and Oliver Platt.