Weekend Box Office – Winter Holds AVATAR to $73 Million Domestic; $232 Million Worldwide

     December 20, 2009


The huge, blue debut of James Cameron’s Avatar ran headlong into the huge, white debut of winter of yesterday, with much of the East Coast kept out of theatres by crazy bouts of snow. As a result, one of the most anticipated December debuts of the decade could only score the second best all-time numbers for the month with $73 million over three days reported from 3,457 theatres. Worldwide the news was much better for Avatar, with 20th Century Fox now estimating an impressive $158 million haul.  That means Avatar has made $232 million worldwide in just a few days. Only three more weeks like that and this baby will be in the black! I mean, blue.  Avatar will be in the blue.

Title Weekend Total
1 Avatar $73,000,000 $73
2 The Princess & the Frog $12,224,000 $44.7
3 The Blind Side $10,030,000 $164.7
4 Did You Hear About the Morgans? $7,000,000 $7
5 New Moon $4,370,000 $274.5
6 Invictus $4,170,000 $15.8
7 A Christmas Carol $3,419,000 $130.7
8 Up in the Air $3,100,000 $8.1
9 Brothers $2,630,000 $22
10 Old Dogs $2.289,000 $43.5

avatar_movie_poster_final_01.jpgAvatar did manage to post numbers slightly above LOTR: Return of the King to become the second biggest December opening of all-time. But, with $77 million, 2007’s I Am Legend still holds the record for the month. There is some irony in this particular fact: See, director James Cameron broke new ground in creating the amazing 3D effects for his film. And I Am Legend? The special effects there could charitably be called crap.

But, as I mentioned yesterday, no one should be mourning for Avatar. Yes, the East Coast snow storms dealt the film a bad hand on its opening weekend, but if any movie has sunny long-term prospects, it is Avatar. Reviews have been generally glowing and exit polls are through the roof. This means that, unlike many big-screen blockbusters, curiosity is not going to trickle off after week one. In fact, this film is unique enough that even those who may not have been sold by the pre-release buzz will be tempted by word of mouth to catch this particular title on the big screen… and to pay those higher 3D prices to do it.

Of course, Avatar will still be working against that Cameron-sized budget in the following weeks. As the most expensive movie of all-time, the film will have to post better than I Am Legend numbers to claim financial success. Luckily, the Christmas holiday is one of the best times of the avatar_movie_image_sam_worthington_01.jpgyear for a film to build its numbers.

Last year’s big holiday winner, Marley and Me, featured a bad script about a dead dog and it still walked off with a multiplier of four times its opening weekend gross.  And of course, long ago, a movie called Titanic was released one week before Christmas to decent numbers. The following weekend attendance went up by 23%. Data on what happened after that is kind of fuzzy but I’m pretty sure the movie did OK.

I probably should have avoided bringing Titanic into this discussion. Despite sharing the same director, Avatar and Titanic are about as different as night and day and I certainly do not want to give anyone the impression that Avatar avatar_james_cameron_set_photo_sigourney_weaver_01.jpgcould make the former film’s once-in-a-lifetime march to a billion dollars. If you must compare Cameron titles, a better choice may be The Abyss. In 1989 Cameron spent untold millions perfecting the special effects and submerged water-worlds of that underappreciated sci-fi gem. The film had a non-franchise pedigree and a message about respecting other beings and Earth’s resources, sound familiar? Unfortunately, The Abyss became the one financial sour note in Cameron’s otherwise storied career. In one weekend, Avatar has already avoided the financial abyss, so to speak. But this gigantic-in-every-way film still has a ways to go before it can rightly call itself a gigantic success.

Meanwhile, in counter programming news, Sony was perhaps the only studio thankful for the East Coast blizzard on Saturday. The storm gave them a legitimate excuse for the dismal performance of their new Sarah Jessica Parker/Hugh Grant comedy Did You Hear About the Morgans? A legitimate excuse aside from the fact that the movie is legitimately awful, I mean.

If Fox has any reason not to be optimistic about Avatar’s chances over the Christmas holiday, it may be because Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes is waiting in the wings. Warner Brothers’ new take on the classic character has been tracking well with audiences so it will be interesting to see how the well-worn 2D character stacks up against Cameron’s new-fangled 3D technology. Stay tuned.


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