By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated December 22, 2003 03:33 PM

Director Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” lorded over the box office, raking in $73.6 million in its first weekend for a five-day total of $125.1 million since its debut Wednesday, according to studio estimates.

The figures place it well ahead of the J.R.R. Tolkien trilogy’s first two chapters. Part one, “The Fellowship of the Ring,” grossed $47.2 million in its opening weekend and $75 million in its first five days, while the middle chapter, “The Two Towers,” had a $62 million opening weekend and made $102 million over its first five days, reports the Associated Press.

Julia Roberts in “Mona Lisa Smile,” the weekend’s only other new wide release (and which most critics found disappointing), opened as the No. 2 movie with a tepid $12 million. The previous weekend’s top movie, “Something’s Gotta Give,” with Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson in Golden Globe-nominated performances, slipped to third place with $11.5 million.

As AP also notes, “Return of the King” did not set records for best domestic opening weekend, but it earn the highest numbers ever for a worldwide debut. The film added $121 million in 28 other countries since Wednesday for a global total of $246.1 million, surpassing last month’s $202.8 million five-day opening for “The Matrix Revolutions.”

As reported in Monday’s New York Times, audiences should now expect more global openings. In the meantime, the spectacular opening could boost the prospects for “Return of the King” to outdistance the $861 million total worldwide gross for “Fellowship of the Ring” and the $921 million of “The Two Towers.”

“Return of the King” could become the second movie to top $1 billion worldwide, after 1997’s “Titanic” ($1.8 billion).

The weekend’s Top 10 movies, according to studio estimates, were as follows:

1. “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” $73.6 million
2. “Mona Lisa Smile,” $12 million
3. “Something’s Gotta Give,” $11.5 million
4. “The Last Samurai,” $7.3 million
5. “Stuck on You,” $5.4 million
6. “Elf,” $5 million
7. “Bad Santa,” $4.3 million
8. “The Haunted Mansion,” $4.2 million
9. “Love Don’t Cost a Thing,” $4 million
10. “Honey,” $2.6 million