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Spectacular 'Avatar' performance driven more and more by 3-D

January 10, 2010 | 12:03 pm

Avatar glasses "Avatar" has become a must-see in 3-D.

Ticket sales for the James Cameron-directed blockbuster declined only 29% in the U.S .and Canada this weekend, according to studio estimates, a fantastically small figure given that last weekend included a holiday. Total international grosses actually increased, thanks to a big opening in China, but grosses in most major markets were down less than 30% as well.

Much of that growth seems to be driven by buzz that the picture has to be seen in 3-D, even by those who may have seen it in 2-D. The percentage of total ticket sales from 3-D screens has grown consistently domestically and abroad. In the U.S. and Canada, grosses from digital 3-D and Imax 3-D screens represented more than 80% of the total this weekend. When the movie opened, they were 71%.

Total grosses for "Avatar" have hit $429 million domestically, $906.2 million overseas and $1.335 billion worldwide. It's now the seventh-biggest movie ever at the domestic box office and the second-biggest overseas and globally, not accounting for ticket price inflation and shifting exchange rates. On all three counts, its only ultimate competition will be Cameron's last picture, "Titanic," which ended up with $600.8 million domestically and $1.24 billion overseas. Most important for Fox and its financing partners, the movie is turning out to be a spectacular success despite the massive $430 million invested in production, marketing and distribution. (For more on the performance of "Avatar" and other movies this weekend, see our initial box-office post.)

In China, where "Avatar" opened Monday, it set a record for the biggest opening week ever, selling $40.2 million worth of tickets.

Among new movies, the vampire science-fiction picture "Daybreakers" was the only one with a strong start, debuting to $15 million. Given its $20-million budget, covered by distributor Lionsgate and the Australian government, it should be at least mildly profitable. However, ticket sales will probably fall off fast as audiences gave it an average grade of C, according to market research firm CinemaScore.

Universal Pictures' romantic comedy "Leap Year" had a soft opening of $9.2 million, although the studio and partner Relativity Media spent only $19 million to acquire the picture from Spyglass Entertainment. However, its CinemaScore of B indicates it should have a stronger run, particularly among young girls, who made up the biggest sector of the audience for the PG-rated film.

[Update, Jan. 11, 3:15 PM: This post was updated to reflect the fact that Universal and Relativity acquired "Leap Year" from Spyglass.]

Youth in Revolt The Michael Cera comedy "Youth in Revolt" did nothing to ease the financial woes of Weinstein Co., opening with just $7 million. The movie's biggest problem appeared to be that audiences just didn't like it, giving the picture an average grade of C-plus. The movie cost only $18 million to produce, meaning it shouldn't be a major money loser, but it comes after the already struggling studio had a major flop in the costly musical "Nine."

"Up in the Air," "The Blind Side" and "It's Complicated" all had particularly strong holds this weekend, indicating that they will keep playing well throughout January. "Sherlock Holmes" and "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel" had bigger drops of more than 50%, although both are already in good financial shape after very strong performances over the holidays.

In limited release, the Tim Allen-directed comedy "Crazy on the Outside," which the former "Home Improvement" star distributed through Freestyle Releasing, bombed, opening to just $75,450 at 75 theaters.

Fox Searchlight expanded the country music drama "Crazy Heart" from 11 to 33 theaters and kept up the movie's decent performance, collecting $435,000 and bringing its total to $1.2 million.

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

1. "Avatar" (Fox/Dune/Ingenious): $48.5 million, down 29% on its fourth weekend. $143 million internationally in 111 markets. Domestic total: $429 million. Foreign total: $906 million.

2. "Sherlock Holmes" (Warner Bros./Village Roadshow): $16.6 million, down 55% on its third weekend. $25.7 million internationally in 44 markets. Domestic total: $165.2 million. Foreign total: $130 million.

3. "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel" (Fox/New Regency): $16.3 million, down 54% on its third weekend. $22 million internationally in 56 markets. Domestic total: $178.2 million. Foreign total: $136 million.

4. "Daybreakers" (Lionsgate): Opened to $15 million.

5. "It's Complicated" (Universal/Relativity): $11 million, down 41% on its third weekend. $8 million overseas in 17 markets. Domestic total: $76.4 million. Foreign total: $23.4 million.

6. "Leap Year" (Universal/Relativity): Opened to $9.2 million.

7. "The Blind Side" (Warner Bros./Alcon): $7.8 million, down 35% on its eighth weekend. Domestic total: $219.2 million.

8. "Up in the Air" (Paramount/Montecito): $7.1 million, down 34% on its sixth weekend. Domestic total: $54.7 million.

9. "Youth in Revolt" (Weinstein Co.): Opened to $7 million.

10. "The Princess and the Frog" (Disney): $4.7 million, down 52% on its seventh weekend. Domestic total: $92.6 million.

-- Ben Fritz

Top photo: Director James Cameron and his wife, Suzy Amis, wear 3-D glasses at the Tokyo premiere of "Avatar." Credit: Franck Robichon / EPA.

Bottom photo: Michael Cera in "Youth in Revolt." Credit: Bruce Birmelin / Weinstein Co.

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