''Return of the King'' reigns at the box office -- The final ''Lord of the Rings'' film takes in $125.1 million in five days, while Julia Roberts sees one of the worst openings of her career

By Dave Karger
December 20, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

All hail ”The King.” The third and final installment of the wildly successful ”Lord of the Rings” film series dominated the multiplexes this weekend and helped serve Julia Roberts her worst opening in seven years.

”Return of the King” grossed $73.6 million over the three-day weekend and $125.1 million since opening on Wednesday, according to studio estimates. That’s considerably higher than the $75.1 million and $102 million five-day takes of the first and second ”Rings” films. Its 200-minute running time, however, prohibited ”King” from breaking the all-time five-day record of $144.4 million, held by this summer’s ”The Matrix Reloaded.” Still, this is a gargantuan debut (the No. 7 top three-day opening of all time, if the estimates hold) that only cements the film’s status as the frontrunner for Best Picture at the Oscars.

The news wasn’t so good for Julia Roberts’ poorly reviewed drama ”Mona Lisa Smile,” which debuted with a surprisingly low $12 million. The 1950s-set film, in which Roberts plays a college professor, marks the actress’ worst wide-release opening in which she plays the lead since 1996’s flop ”Mary Reilly.” ”Mona Lisa Smile”’s debut was so low that the Diane Keaton/Jack Nicholson romance ”Something’s Gotta Give” almost beat it in its second week. The critically praised film slipped only 28 percent to $11.5 million, bringing its 10-day total to $33.5 million. Tom Cruise’s ”The Last Samurai” took a bigger hit from ”Lord of the Rings,” falling 48 percent to $7.3 million, while Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear barely beat out ”Elf” for fifth place with $5.4 million. Still, the rest of the top 10 combined couldn’t match ”The Return of the King.”