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First look: 'Avatar' continues to dominate as box office repeats Christmas success

January 3, 2010 |  9:18 am

AvatarCameron It was déjà vu for Hollywood this weekend.

Finishing off what proved to be a phenomenal holiday season at the box office, nearly every movie in theaters experienced only modest declines -- and, in some cases, small increases -- from last weekend's record-breaking three-day period. With no new pictures opening, the ranking of the top 10 movies stayed the same except for one switch near the bottom of the list.

As always, there were relative winners and losers. But even the movies that dropped the fastest -- "Sherlock Holmes," "Alvin and the Chipmunks" and "Nine" -- experienced declines that on most weekends would be considered modest. Very strong ticket sales during the week, when students were out of school and many adults were off work, helped nearly every picture rack up impressive totals since Christmas.

"Avatar" was, once again, a big winner, dropping only 10% as it sold $68.3 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada, according to an estimate from distributor 20th Century Fox. That's the highest domestic gross ever for a movie on its third weekend, blowing away the previous record of $45 million set by the original "Spider-Man" in 2002, even accounting for inflation.

Driven by fantastic buzz and 3-D ticket-price surcharges, "Avatar" has now grossed $352.1 million domestically. Final foreign grosses were still being calculated this morning, but it appeared very likely that the total worldwide gross had already exceeded $1 billion. The very costly movie is on its way to being a major financial success for Fox and its financing partners.

Warner Bros.' reimagining of "Sherlock Holmes," with star Robert Downey Jr., experienced the biggest drop of any movie in the top 10, 38%, reflecting mixed buzz after its debut on Christmas Day. But with $38.4 million this weekend and a domestic total of $140.7 million, it's still on very solid ground after 10 days given its $90-million production budget.

AlvinSqueak "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel" fell off 25% from its opening, collecting $36.6 million and bringing its total ticket sales since last Wednesday to $157.4 million. It took Fox's original "Alvin" film more than four weeks to hit the same total two years ago.

Universal Pictures' romantic comedy "It's Complicated," starring Meryl Street and Alec Baldwin, declined only 15%, continuing director Nancy Meyers' history of movies with strong playability among older female moviegoers. It grossed $18.7 million this weekend and has collected a total of $59.1 million domestically.

Musical adaptation "Nine," which was financed by the Weinstein Co. and Relativity Media, dropped only 22% from its debut in wide release last weekend. After a dismal start, however, its $4.3-million weekend leaves it with a soft total of $14 million.

Several movies in the top 10 with particularly strong word-of-mouth saw ticket sales increase this weekend, including inspirational football drama "The Blind Side" (up 10%), animated feature "The Princess and the Frog" (up 11%), unemployment-themed drama "Up in the Air" (up 1%), the Clint Eastwood-directed South African drama "Invictus" (up 2%), and romantic comedy "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" (up 4%).

(A full domestic top 10 list and international grosses will be posted later in the morning.)

-- Ben Fritz

Top photo: James Cameron on set with, from left, actors Sigourney Weaver, Joel David Moore and Sam Worthington. Credit: Mark Fellman / 20th Century Fox

Bottom photo: A scene from "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel." Credit: 20th Century Fox

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