There was never a doubt that the latest Lord of the Rings installment -- The Two Towers -- would rock the holiday box office in its opening weekend. The welcome surprise for AOL Time Warner(NYSE: AOL) is that the film's estimated five-day, $101.5 million North American showing surpassed the original.

Last year's The Fellowship of the Ring scored a huge $313 million by the time it concluded its theatrical run. The follow-up's record-breaking start is trending 33% higher.

Sure, it helps that ticket prices inch higher every year, and that fresh multiplex theaters have the new release playing on 700 more screens than last year's film. But, here at the midpoint of a blockbuster trilogy franchise, it has to feel good to be AOL Time Warner.

The lure of last year's epic has helped moved more than 35 million videos and DVDs this year. Looking beyond the box office receipts, it's safe to say the critically acclaimed Two Towers will also be a can't-miss home entertainment appendage come 2003. The fact that AOL Time Warner is also the company behind the weekend's second-biggest winner, Two Weeks Notice, is gravy.

If only the stock market could be floored by celluloid success. Wall Street's been bagging the Baggins, as shares of AOL Time Warner have surrendered nearly 60% between the two hobbit flick releases. With growth stalled at America Online and the entertainment business struggling, can Frodo Baggins save the day?