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Wednesday, 19 December, 2001, 17:25 GMT
Hollywood expects record 2001
On target: Orlando Bloom as elf Legolas
Lord of the Rings: Set to score a box office bullseye
Hollywood expected 2001 to be a record-breaking year for takings at US cinemas.

Last year's record $7.7bn (5.3bn) takings have already been surpassed, according to one Los Angeles box office tracker.

Exhibitor Relations Inc said $7.8bn had been reached by 16 December, and that a grand total of $8.3bn (5.7bn) for the year remained a possibility.

A spokesman said that, although the estimates were very rough: "We're definitely going to surpass $8bn - it's just a matter of by how much."

A hobbit
Hobbits: doing brisk business at US cinemas

However, he stressed that much yet depended on the performance of the latest fantasy blockbuster, The Fellowship of the Ring - the first of three film adaptations of Professor JRR Tolkien's epic novel The Lord of the Rings.

The film is debuting on more than 5,700 screens in more more than 3,300 US cinemas.

Such widespread distribution means that, even at more than two hours and 45 minutes long, it should be capable of making a lot of money.

Advance online ticket sales - an increasingly important barometer of a film's performance - are approaching the level enjoyed by the other recent fantasy blockbuster, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

Richard Harris as Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore
Festive look: Richard Harris in Harry Potter

The film - entitled Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in the UK - was the most eagerly awaited production of the year in the US when it opened, in November.

Already, Harry Potter has amassed $253m (175m) in ticket sales in the US.

Possibly the biggest release in the US over the Christmas period is Black Hawk Down, from British director Ridley Scott.

Black Hawk Down tells the story of the Battle of Mogadishu, in Somalia, in 1993 - the longest sustained ground battle involving US soldiers since the Vietnam War.

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