'Big Fish' Bigger Than 'Lord of Rings'

01/12/2004 at 05:47 PM EST

For the time being at least, Tim Burton's fanciful "Big Fish," starring Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney bypassed the seemingly unstoppable "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" to become the weekend's No. 1 movie, according to studio estimates.

But the tallies are close: "Big Fish" pulled in $14.5 million versus "Rings'" $14.1 million -- meaning those positions could flip when final numbers are released Monday, the Associated Press reports.

"This is very rare to have a photo finish for the No. 1 spot," Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations, tells the news service -- adding his prediction that "Fish" would remain at the top of the barrel after the official count.

No matter where it stands, the third and final installment of director Peter Jackson's epic J.R.R.Tolkien trilogy has already raked in $312.2 million in the U.S. alone.

"Big Fish" also had impressive numbers. Expanding to 2,406 theaters after playing in limited release to qualify for Academy Awards consideration, the movie averaged $6,027 per screen -- compared to $3,999 in 3,532 theaters for "Return of the King," says AP.

The weekend's only new wide releases during the post-holiday dry spell were two poorly reviewed movies, the Eddie Griffin comedy "My Baby's Daddy," which only made it to No. 6, and the Mandy Moore romance "Chasing Liberty," which did even worse to land at No. 7.

The Top 10 movies of the weekend, according to studio estimates, were as follows:

1. "Big Fish," $14.5 million
2. "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," $14.1 million
3. "Cheaper by the Dozen," $12 million
4. "Something's Gotta Give," $8.2 million
5. "Cold Mountain," $7.9 million
6. "My Baby's Daddy," $7.8 million
7. "Chasing Liberty," $6 million
8. "Paycheck," $5.2 million
9. "The Last Samurai," $4.53 million
10. "Mona Lisa Smile," $4.5 million

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