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Could 'Avatar' hit $1 billion?

Avatar 20th Century Fox's $430-million bet on James Cameron is off to a rip-roaring start and set up for a huge holiday haul.

"Avatar" sold a studio-estimated $232.2 million worth of tickets around the world this weekend, the ninth-biggest global debut of all time not accounting for ticket-price inflation. It was the biggest ever for a non-sequel, a sign that Fox's marketing machine succeeded in generating huge interest in a picture whose name alone didn't have much built-in excitement, as evidenced by modestly attended midnight screenings Thursday night.

The film's $73-million domestic gross was, like every movie in the market, significantly affected Saturday by snowstorms that kept East Coast audiences, from Washington, D.C., through New England, off the roads. Grosses were noticeably lower in Washington, Philadelphia and Baltimore -- as well as in New Orleans and Dallas due to the Cowboys-Saints match-up Saturday, which had been hotly anticipated.

Nonetheless, it was a solid performance, the second-biggest for December. Perhaps more importantly, those who saw the movie enjoyed it. Every demographic gave "Avatar" an average grade of A, according to market research firm CinemaScore, meaning those who didn't turn out for opening weekend will be getting strong recommendations from those who did. The combination of Christmas falling on a Friday and positive word of mouth has Fox executives buzzing that "Avatar" could gross nearly as much on its second weekend as its first and hit $200 million by the end of the year in the U.S. and Canada.

The big money for "Avatar," however, is coming from the rest of the world. Despite not yet having opened in Japan and China and frigid weather in northern Europe, it collected $159.2 million, the sixth-highest simultaneous foreign launch of all time. When accounting for the absence of those two big Asian markets, it was No. 4, behind only the sixth "Harry Potter" movie, the third "Spider-Man" and the third "Pirates of the Caribbean."

Because of China's annual limit on foreign films, "Avatar" can't open there until Jan. 2. It debuts in Japan on Wednesday. With big grosses expected in those countries, where effects-laden tent-pole movies tend to do very well, and very strong momentum everywhere else, "Avatar" will almost certainly gross more than half a billion dollars internationally. If it performs as well as recent overseas smash hits like "2012" and if the domestic take hits $300 million or more, both of which appear possible at the moment, "Avatar" could become the fifth movie to ever top $1 billion in worldwide box office.

The largest factor in its performance beyond word of mouth is 3-D. One of the reasons for the spectacularly high cost of "Avatar" is the advanced digital 3-D technology developed by Cameron and his team. Domestically, theaters with 3-D screens accounted for 71% of the movie's gross despite representing only 60% of theaters. Overseas, the disparity was far more dramatic, as 25% of screens and 51% of ticket sales were in 3-D.

If the movie's momentum continues, Fox and its financing partners Dune Entertainment and Ingenious Film Partners could come close to profitability based on theatrical revenues alone. Studios typically receive half of a movie's domestic and 40% of its international box-office revenue. Future revenue from DVD, television and other markets would then put them well into the black. The three companies spent about $280 million to produce "Avatar" after the benefit of tax credits, and Fox spent an additional $150 million to market and distribute it worldwide.

Morgans With "Avatar" dominating the box office and snow hurting the industry Saturday night, there was little other good news. Sony Pictures and Relativity Media's $58-million romantic comedy "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" flopped, debuting to just $7 million. Disney's and Warner Bros.' hopes that their movies "The Princess and the Frog" and "Invictus," both of which had so-so starts last weekend, would decline modestly proved futile. Both dropped by about 50%.

Nonetheless, total industry revenue was up a phenomenal 52% from the same weekend a year earlier, when the No. 1 movie, "Yes Man," grossed just $18.3 million.

Among awards contenders in limited release, Weinstein Co.'s musical adaptation "Nine" had a strong start, but Fox Searchlight's country music drama "Crazy Heart," starring Jeff Bridges, did not. The critically acclaimed George Clooney drama "Up in the Air" continued its impressive run as it expanded to 175 theaters (for more details, see our earlier box-office report).

Here are the top 10 movies at the domestic box office according to studio estimates and Hollywood.com:

1. "Avatar" (Fox/Dune/Ingenious): Opened to $73 million in the U.S. and Canada, $159.2 million in 106 foreign countries.

2. "The Princess and the Frog" (Disney): Off 50% on its second weekend playing nationwide to $12.2 million. Domestic total: $44.8 million.

3. "The Blind Side" (Warner Bros./Alcon): $10 million, down just 33% on its fifth weekend. U.S. and Canadian total: $164.7 million.

4. "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" (Sony/Relativity): Debuted to $7 million.

5. "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" (Summit): Off 45% on its fifth weekend to $4.4 million, bringing its domestic take to $274.6 million.

6. "Invictus" (Warner Bros./Spyglass): Fell 52% on its second weekend to $4.2 million. Domestic total: $15.9 million.

7. "A Christmas Carol" (Disney): $3.4 million, down 50% on its seventh weekend. $130.8 million so far.

8. "Up in the Air" (Paramount/Montecito): $3.1 million as it more than doubled its theater count to 175. U.S and Canadian gross so far: $8.1 million.

9. "Brothers" (Lionsgate): $2.6 million, down 48% on its third weekend. $22.1 million domestic total.

10. "Old Dogs" (Disney): $2.3 million on its fourth weekend, down 48%. Domestic take to date: $43.6 million.

--Ben Fritz

Related:

"Avatar" midnight ticket sales: $3.5 million

"Avatar" review

Hoping "Avatar" is the new face of filmmaking

"Avatar" coverage on Hero Complex blog

Top photo: Sam Worthington (seated) and James Cameron (standing) on the set of "Avatar." Credit: Mark Fellman / 20th Century Fox.

Bottom photo: Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant in "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" Credit: Barry Wetcher / Sony Pictures.

 
Comments () | Archives (33)

billion dollar baby!!!!!!!!!!!

I find it odd that people are singling out the curse words and somehow think the movie is "anti-white".

Firstly, this is the way people actually speak. In a movie about people, I think it's okay to reflect the way people actually speak. What's more, the point that they should try having the cast curse with the word "Mohammed" and see what happens is borderline daft; nobody speaks like that, at least not in the types of army teams that the film is representing.

Secondly, I think it's a mistake and somewhat self-serving to say that the film's themes are "anti-white". In fact, they're very Christian, and Muslim too - Jesus himself would have preached that we should protect our families and communities from those who would seek to destroy them for pure profit.

And besides, there was a broad mix of races represented in the "bad guys" of the film - black, white, asian and more.

Despite its roller-coaster action-movie genre, I think the film did admirably well in presenting a complex and nuanced picture of the relationship between invaders and the invaded, giving each side light and shade. Frankly I loved it, and I'm planning to see it again.

You probably enjoyed the Passion of the Christ more, and I don't blame you - it's a great movie too. But to hate this movie for a few curse words and love a movie in which Jesus gets beaten and starved to death is beyond weird.

I know I will probably get flamed for this, and just to clarify I am not insulting anyone - just expressing my opinion on this movie.

This movie is not great. It's okay - okay as in, it's a Sci-Fi rip-off from Pocahontas. A white guy (settler) meets an alien (native) and she brings him to her people, teaches him her ways. The aliens are an almost certain copy from the Native Americans who also believed in a living Mother Earth. Then he falls in love with the native and realises how her people are unjustly treated and then fights with them against his own and it's all over with a happy ending. That's like Cameron making amends for how the shitty the settlers treated Native Americans.

Unlike many others, I do not actually think James Cameron is all that good. He makes some enjoyable movies - but I gotta say, in terms of originality, Avatar is a certain failure. And special effects don't make a movie good. If that were the case, Revenge of the Sith and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest would have been praised head over heels. And if Avatar gets Oscars, I will view the judges as madmen.

It is most CERTAINLY not better than the Lord of the Rings trilogy. That's got to be a joke.

AVATAR has mind boggling action and special effects--the best virtual reality yet created and hugely entertaining. But, the plot, story line and dialoge are sadly a repetition of other works of the recent past. You could also say that it is War of the Worlds in reverse. Surely, after 150 years, humans (especially white males) who have achieved the capability of intergalatic travel, would have changed in many ways (if not for the better), compared to their ancestors of 2009. Cameron says this movie is a methaphor for contemporary issues, but I find in it, way too much hyperbole. So, it is obvious with AVATAR, that current movie techical creativity, is many, many years ahead of thematic originality. Nevertheless, AVATAR gets my vote for multiple Oscar nominations in nearly every category, but not for the script.

this is the movie ... that i must say.. the best movie i've ever since in my entire life.

period.

haters , please shut your mouth.

First off.. AMAZING Movie, Second of all taking the "lords" Name in vein is common in movies... if that's the case half the movies made wouldn't ever be watched by Christians.. OH another thing my best friend and his family are Christians and they tend to watch movies that use that kind of language.. and like it... hell my buddy was blown away by Avatar and loved it, he wants to see it again, hell I wanna see it again. Oh forgot to mention Cameron plans on making two more movies that focus on Jake and Naytrii so now we'll probably get a better story.

I'm a longtime fan of James Cameron, starting with ALIENS, which was every bit as great as the original Ridley Scott ALIEN, which was an incredible accomplishment for Mr. Cameron. I loved TERMINATOR 2, THE ABYSS, TITANIC and now, his masterpiece, AVATAR. What I especially love about Cameron is that he features strong, brilliant, independent women as embodied by Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hamilton, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Zoe Saldana and Michelle Rodrigez. Thank you, Mr. Cameron. Think AVATAR will eclipse TITANIC at the Box Office and be the #1 champ of all time. Brava!

Hey, I think Cameron just lifted the script I sent in 2006 to Joel Silver and the Wachowski brothers!!!

Only that in my script, the poliphemians are a civilization of bastards, which want marines and pandorines to anhilate each other, and have the ore for themselves. Don't know if he kept that, haven't seen it, prefer not to, I'd be too ashamed (think that they could even sue me if I do a P2P!). I got inspiration from the stuff I did in Oslo concerning ETA + CIA, but it's a higher degree motif: it's a perverted variation of Johimbo or Per un pugno di dollari. I heard they done it more like indians versus cow-boys. Anyway I got what I deserve "why wait for them to do it their way when we can just seize it and do it better", they seized my script and did it their way. The law, as always, of the stronger (in Tibet they call it kharma).

 
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