Turns out the projection that ''Big Fish'' had upset ''The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King'' to take the weekend box office crown was just a fish story. Sony had initially estimated a $14.5 million weekend for the Tim Burton drama, in its first weekend of wide release, outdistancing New Line's estimate of $14.1 million for ''Return.'' But ''Big Fish'' actually netted $13.8 million, while the hobbits actually rang up $14.2 million in sales, according to the box office analysts at Exhibitor Relations. When the final tally was in on Monday, ''Return'' was back on top, becoming the first film in two years (since ''Rings'' opener ''The Fellowship of the Ring'') to rule at the multiplex for four straight weekends.
The weekend estimates proved doubly embarrassing for Sony, which also lost traction on ''Something's Gotta Give.'' Its total was revised downward to $7.7 million, meaning it fell behind ''Cold Mountain'' (at $7.8 million) and came in fifth.
Studios are often overly optimistic about weekend projections, since everyone wants bragging rights to be No. 1, or at least in the top three or top five, since those are the only rankings many media outlets report, and since those stories are rarely corrected once the final numbers are in. ''Whenever it's close, it gets sticky,'' Sony marketing exec Jeff Blake told the New York Times on Monday. Of the revised total for ''Big Fish,'' he said: ''We adjusted to reality as soon as possible.''