The return of the ”Lord of the Rings” trilogy to the multiplex meant the return of the ka-ching at the U.S. box office. According to distributor New Line,” ”The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” rang up first-day ticket sales of $34.1 million, a record for a Wednesday opening and the third best opening day of all time. (The previous Wednesday best belonged to 1999’s ”Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace,” with $28.5 million, while the one-day record still belongs to last year’s ”Spider-Man,” with $39.4 million).
The Wednesday figures, representing 3,703 theaters, include $8 million from night-owl moviegoers who attended midnight screenings Tuesday at 2,100 theaters. The Wednesday strategy has paid off for the franchise; the midweek opening of last year’s ”The Two Towers” took in $26.2 million, and the Wednesday opening of 2001’s ”The Fellowship of the Ring” grossed $18.2 million. This year, only ”The Matrix Reloaded” has had a bigger first day ($37.5 million). Still, the hobbits can claim a global victory over Neo and Trinity. ”Return of the King” grossed another $23 million overseas on Wednesday, giving it a one-day total of $57 million, running rings around the $43 million grossed by the worldwide simultaneous opening of ”The Matrix Revolutions” last month.