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December 27, 2001

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Ali packs a punch

Arthur J Pais

Will Smith stars in Ali The Hollywood establishment thought it was a risky venture and several studios backed out saying that its $ 100 million budget was intimidating.

These studios might want to revisit their thesis.

For Ali, the Columbia Pictures film starring Will Smith as the legendary prize fighter, had an impressive opening on Christmas day.

Though it could not pin down Lord of the Rings to the mat, it still grossed $ 10.2 million and became the all-time champion of Christmas Day film openings.

Lord of the Rings, however, grossed about $ 11.5 million on Tuesday, according to box office tracking service Exhibitor Relations Inc to come in as the highest grossing film of the day.

Lord Of The Rings Ali received mixed reviews, unlike Lord of the Rings, which received near unanimous raves. While The New York Times gave Ali an ecstatic review, People magazine called it a "dazzling, flawed, achingly ambitious biographical epic."

The film chronicles the life of Muhammad Ali from his days as an emerging heavyweight champion and him turning to Islam to his opposition to Vietnam War. Ali had personally approved the movie's screenplay. Some critics complained the film was too sanitised and it did not show the negative aspects of Ali's life in his formative years. One of the heaviest influences on Ali, the Rev Martin Luther King Jr, is hardly a factor in the film.

If Ali continues do well beyond the holiday film frenzy, which usually ends by New Year eve, it might be on its way to recover its investment. And if it does well abroad, it could make a decent profit.

Jon Voight and Will Smith in Ali Ali, directed by Michael Mann (Heat), is expected to put up a stiff fight for Oscar nominations. It has already received Golden Globe nomination for best actor in a drama for Smith and as best supporting actor for Jon Voight who plays the legendary sports announcer Howard Cosell.

Columbia Pictures executives said on Tuesday they were not surprised with the movie's opening. Given the fact it has two strong names - that of Muhammad Ali and Will Smith - they had expected a very strong opening and a steady box-office in the following weeks.

While Ali is looking to a long theatrical life, Lord of the Ring reached $ 95 million mark during its first week. While Ali averaged a strong $ 7,725 per its 2,446 theaters, Lord of the Ring fared even better. The film, which is in 3,359 theatres, averaged a fantastic $ 19,683 per screen.

The numbers are particularly impressive since the film is nearly three hours long, which means on any given day it has less number of shows than its competitors. "This is a film that will have legs, it's an epic that plays to both younger and older audiences," says Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations. "The fact that it's getting up to $100 million in such a short amount of time tells you how well received the film has been by the public. It's been getting great buzz, great reviews, and the word of mouth is fantastic," he adds.

A still from The Lord Of The Rings But Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, which had opened with $ 90 million in its first three days did not benefit too much from the holidays. In five days including that of Christmas, it grossed $10 million.

Though it will surpass $ 300 million and become the year's highest grossing film, followed by $ 267 million earned by Shrek, in some sense the highly profitable film is a disappointment. There were speculations early on that it could gross about $ 450 million and be the second all-time box-office champion to the $ 610 million grossed by Titanic in North America.

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