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'Avatar' worldwide total hits $1 billion as foreign grosses explode

January 3, 2010 | 11:34 am

AvatarBillion

It looks like James Cameron's only remaining box office challenger will be James Cameron.

"Avatar" this weekend became the fifth movie in history to bring in more than $1 billion in worldwide ticket sales and the fastest by far to do so, breaking the nine-figure barrier less than three weeks after it debuted.

With a studio-estimated total of $1.033 billion, it has surpassed "The Dark Knight," which left theaters with $1.002 billion, and will soon surpass both "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" ($1.066 billion) and "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" ($1.119 billion). Comparisons accounting for inflation and exchange rates are very complex when calculating ticket sales in more than 100 countries, but it's clear that by any measure the costly "Avatar" is already one of the highest-grossing movies of all time.

20th Century Fox, Dune Entertainment and Ingenious Film Partners spent about $280 million to produce "Avatar," while Fox kicked in an extra $150 million for worldwide marketing and distribution. Since studios collect a bit less than half of worldwide ticket sales, it will likely earn a small profit on theatrical revenue alone and significantly more from DVD and other markets.

The only remaining question about the box office performance of "Avatar" is whether it will surpass director James Cameron's previous movie, "Titanic," which still holds the all-time title with worldwide ticket sales of $1.843 billion. To reach that far-off mark, the picture will have to general phenomenal business throughout the winter and draw many moviegoers to repeat viewings.

Though "Avatar" is performing very well in the U.S. and Canada, its success is coming primarily from overseas. In 110 foreign markets, it has collected a total of $670.2 million, almost twice as much as it has taken in domestically. It will almost certainly surpass the No. 2 international movie of all time, "Return of the King," which grossed $742.1 million. "Titanic" took in $1.242 billion from foreign countries.

"Avatar" is already the highest-grossing film of all time in Russia, the fourth highest in Spain and Australia, and the second-biggest U.S. movie ever in France, India and South Korea. It opens on Monday in China, an increasingly lucrative market for effects-laden tent-pole films, and on Jan. 15 in Italy.

Three-D technology continues to be one of its primary drivers. Theaters with 3-D screens have accounted for about 75% of its ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada and roughly the same in major foreign markets.

Domestically, "Avatar" is well on its way to grossing more than $450 million but has a long way to go before it challenges the $533 million collected by "The Dark Knight," let alone the record-holding $601 million of "Titanic."

Anything remains possible for "Avatar," however, given its amazing momentum. Despite a far-from-spectacular opening weekend, the film has experienced minimal declines since then, generating the second-highest second-weekend ticket sales of all time and the highest ever on a third weekend.

Every movie in wide release saw modest declines this weekend relative to the record-breaking Christmas weekend. The movie with the biggest drop, "Sherlock Holmes," fell a relatively modest 38%, while several pictures saw ticket sales increase, most notably "The Blind Side" and "The Princess and the Frog."

Comp Relative to their costs, "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel" (which 20th Century Fox and New Regency spent $70 million to produce) and "Sherlock Holmes" (which Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow spent $90 million to produce) are already looking like solid successes, while "It's Complicated" (which Universal Pictures and Relativity Media spent about $85 million to produce) is on its way to becoming one as well. "Nine," meanwhile, is looking like a major financial disappointment for the Weinstein Co. and Relativity.

(For more on the domestic performance of various movies this weekend, see our initial box office post from earlier this morning.)

Overseas, "Sherlock" has grossed $37.6 million from 33 territories, bringing its total to $88.3 million. "Squeakquel" collected $32 million in 54 markets, increasing its foreign take to $99.1 million. "It's Complicated" brought in $5 million, increasing its international gross to $13.8 million from 13 markets.

In limited release in the U.S. and Canada, "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus," directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Johnny Depp and the late Heath Ledger, took in a solid $130,817 at four theaters, bringing its total to $348,677.

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

1. "Avatar" (Fox/Dune/Ingenious): $68.3 million, down 10%. Domestic total: $352.1 million. Foreign total: $670.2 million.

2. "Sherlock Holmes" (Warner Bros./Village Roadshow): $38.4 million, down 38%. Domestic total: $140.7 million. Foreign total: $88.3 million

3. "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel" (Fox/New Regency): $36.6 million, down 25%. Domestic total: $157.4 million. Foreign total: $99.1 million.

4. "It's Complicated" (Universal/Relativity): $18.7 million, down 15%. Domestic total: $59.1 million. Foreign total: $13.8 million.

5. "The Blind Side" (Warner Bros./Alcon): $12.7 million, up 10%. Domestic total: $209.1 million.

6. "Up in the Air" (Paramount/Montecito): $11.4 million, up 1%. Domestic total: $45 million.

7. "The Princess and the Frog" (Disney): $10 million, up 11%. Domestic total: $86.1 million.

8. "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" (Sony/Relativity): $5.2 million, up 4%. Domestic total: $25.6 million.

9. "Nine" (The Weinstein Co./Relativity): $4.3 million, down 22%. Domestic total: $14 million.

10. "Invictus" (Warner Bros./Spyglass): $4.1 million, up 2%. Domestic total: $30.8 million.

-- Ben Fritz

Photos, from top: Sam Worthington, left, Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver and Joel David Moore in "Avatar." Credit: Mark Fellman / 20th Century Fox.  Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin in "It's Complicated." Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon / Universal Pictures

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