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'Avatar': James Cameron Fantasy Is Global Blockbuster

Dec. 24, '09, update: According to the Box Office Mojo single-day chart for Thursday, James Cameron's sci-fi adventure Avatar grossed an estimated $11.3 million on Dec. 24. Looking at their charts, Avatar had the best non-weekend (Mon.-Thu.) Christmas Eve earnings ever (not adjusted for inflation).

When it comes to single-day rankings, Avatar's Thursday grosses were enough to land it in the #39 slot. The Thursday record holder remains Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, which had its Day 1 on a Thursday in May 2005. (Yesterday was Avatar's Day 7.)

As for Thursdays in December, six movies hold higher rankings than Avatar. They are: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Day 2 at no. 12 and Day 9 at no. 20), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Day 9 at no. 15 and Day 2 at no. 21), Marley and Me (no. 18), Meet the Fockers (Day 2 at no. 28 and Day 9 at no. 31), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (no. 32), and Night at the Museum (no. 38).

The box office phenomenon Titanic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, can be found at #37. Back on Jan. 1, '08 (Day 14), $11.5 million were generated by James Cameron's romantic disaster melodrama (as opposed to disastrous romantic melodrama, though I'm sure some would refer to it that way).

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, which beat Avatar when it opened on Wed., is now way behind on the Thursday chart, landing at #74 with $8.0 million.

Tomorrow opens Guy Ritchie's much-ballyhooed Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law. That will be Avatar's chief competitor for moviegoers' dollars, though Cameron's film is the one expected to come out on top.

Avatar stars Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana in a tale set on a far-off moon inhabited by the blue-skinned Na'vi. Also in the cast: Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Laz Alonso, and CCH Pounder.

Photo: (WETA / 20th Century Fox)

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According to the Box Office Mojo chart for Wed., December 23, Avatar continued its $16 million-a-weekday run. Although James Cameron's sci-fi epic didn't break any records as far as I know, it did add $16.4 million to its domestic take, which now totals $125.9 million.

Nineteen movies have had better Wednesdays than Avatar (remember that the chart hasn't been adjusted for inflation), but most of those further up the list had their opening day on a Wednesday. Yesterday was Day 6 for Avatar, which was released last Friday. Only two non-opening movies earned more than Avatar on a Wed.: Transformers at #6 (Day 2) and The Dark Knight at #15 ($18.3 million on Day 6).

Per screen, Avatar actually scored better than The Dark Knight: $4,764 vs. $4,209, but that can be partly explained because of higher ticket prices and the fact that Avatar is playing in nearly 900 fewer screens. All things being equal, the fewer the theaters the greater the chance of higher average numbers.

Among the other blockbusters that fared better than Avatar on a Wednesday are Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen at #1 ($62.0m), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at #2 ($58.1 million), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix at #3 ($44.2 million), The Dark Knight at #15, Independence Day at #18 ($17.4 million), and the new release Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel at #13 ($18.8 million).

Once again, bear in mind that the above figures have not been adjusted for inflation and that Avatar tickets tend to be costlier because of 3D/IMAX premiums.

Avatar stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Giovanni Ribisi, and Laz Alonso. James Cameron both directed and wrote the screenplay. I personally doubt it that his directing expletives at a fan, though caught on camera (was that a set-up?), will somehow dim either Avatar's box office prospects or Cameron's chances at the Oscars.

Dec. 22

Box Office Mojo reports that James Cameron's Avatar earned another $16 million on Tuesday. The previous day, Avatar had broken the Mondays in December Record, with earnings of $16.3 million. The sci-fi adventure now has the best Tuesday in December as well. In fact, the Monday-Tuesday drop was minuscule: less than 2 percent for a total of $16.08 million.

True, it's Christmas week, which means that millions of people are out of work (in addition to the millions of unemployed) and so are millions of school kids and teenagers. But perhaps Avatar will have some long (and much-needed) legs, after all. Set on a distant celestial body in the 22nd century, Avatar may well be the movie of choice to forget about Planet Earth in the early 21st century.

Avatar's Tuesday gross was the second highest ever for a non-opening film and third-highest overall (not adjusted for inflation). Only Michael Bay's Transformers (which opened on a Tuesday in July 2007), with $27.8 million, and Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight (2008), with $20.8 million, made more money. The Johnny Depp vehicle Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) comes slightly behind, with $15.7 million.

Avatar's five-day domestic total now stands at $109.5 million. Worldwide, the film has earned more than $300 million.

According to Forbes.com, Exhibitor Relations expects Avatar's ticket sales to drop 28 percent over the holiday weekend. If so, that would still mean $55 million at the box office and the #1 spot in the charts.

Written and directed by Cameron of Terminator, Aliens, and Titanic fame, Avatar stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Laz Alonso, Stephen Lang, and Giovanni Ribisi.

Photo: Avatar (WETA / 20th Century Fox)

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Zoe Saldana in Avatar
Zoe Saldana in Avatar (WETA / 20th Century Fox)

Avatar has broken another record.

James Cameron's futuristic fantasy earned another $16.4 million at the domestic box office on Monday, bringing its total to $93.4 million after just four days in release. It's the biggest Monday take in December ever (not adjusted for inflation or 3D/IMAX ticket-price premiums).

Does that mean Avatar will have the sturdy legs of a soccer player? Not necessarily.

Spider-Man 2, which made nearly twice as much – $27.6 million – as Avatar on a Monday in July, went on to gross $373.4 at the U.S. and Canada box office. That's not bad at all, but it's probably not good enough for the costlier Avatar.

Also, Pearl Harbor, considered a disappointment thanks to its high production costs, made only slightly less than Avatar on a Monday back in 2001 (a time when movie-ticket prices were cheaper than today). The Ben Affleck vehicle eventually grossed a total of $198.5 million domestically.

Among the 10 movies that had better Mondays at the box office than Avatar – though some of those Mondays may have been holidays – are The Dark Knight, Shrek 2, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, X Men: The Last Stand, Bruce Almighty, and The Day After Tomorrow.

According to Box Office Mojo, Avatar's current worldwide box office take stands at $285.2 million.

Dec. 21

Thanks to better than expected Sunday business, James Cameron's Avatar grossed $77 million domestically on its opening weekend. On Friday and early Saturday, estimates ranged from $80m-$85 million for the weekend, but with the sharp drop seen later on Saturday – a direct result of the winter storm battering the East Coast of the United States – estimates were lowered on Sunday to $73 million.

Avatar also performed better than expected in the 106 markets where it's currently playing. Fox estimated a $159.2 million international gross, but the futuristic action-adventure ended up taking in $165.5 million. Overall, Avatar grossed approximately $10 million more than it was announced yesterday. Now, it's worth remembering that Avatar made most of its business (at least domestically) in theaters that charge higher ticket prices, such as IMAX and 3D venues.

Avatar is now officially the #1 3D-movie of all time, which isn't really saying much since most 3D films haven't done all that well at the box office and there haven't been all that many to begin with. Also, the film fell a notch below the official (not adjusted for inflation) December record, which has been retained by the Will Smith vehicle I Am Legend. (Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, released in late 2004, would be the actual record-holder if inflation is taken into account.)

But all is not lost: Avatar has had the biggest opening for a non-sequel or a movie not based on a book, play, comic strip, TV series, videogame, magazine article, advertising billboard, restaurant menu, or fortune-cookie prediction. And there goes 99.9 percent of the competition of the last 20 years, from Michael Keaton's Batman to Robert Pattinson's Vampire.

To date (not adjusted for inflation), the best opening weekend at the U.S. and Canada box office belongs to Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, starring Christian Bale as Batman and the then recently deceased Heath Ledger as The Joker, which earned $158 million in 2008. Worldwide, the current record-holder is Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The latest installment of the Harry Potter franchise starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson, grossed $394 million last July.

Set on a distant planet in the 22nd century, Avatar stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang (above), Laz Alonso, Giovanni Ribisi, CCH Pounder, and Wes Studi. Production costs for the film, which initially were estimated to be between $200 million to $500 millionare now being reported within the range of $250-$350m, not including advertising, prints, and other distribution costs.

Generally speaking, the producing and/or distributing studio receives 50 percent of a film's box office gross in the United States/Canada and about 40 percent of the gross overseas. Percentages, however, can vary dramatically depending on a variety of contractual factors.

As per a Los Angeles Times report, the last two movies to surpass first-weekend expectations – Paranormal Activity and Star Trek – did great business for weeks. But remember, initial estimates placed Avatar in the $80m-$85 million range. So, we'll see if Avatar will turn into another Titanic – or not.

As a side note, Rob Marshall's Nine, despite mixed reviews, did solid business domestically. The musical inspired by Federico Fellini's grossed $257,232 in four locations, or a remarkable $64,308 average. Nine stars Daniel Day-Lewis (in the old Marcello Mastroianni role), Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, Sophia Loren, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, and Fergie.

Photo: WETA / 20th Century Fox

Dec. 20

Sarah Jessica Parker, Hugh Grant in Did You Hear About the Morgans?

Sam Worthington, Laz Alonso in Avatar (WETA / 20th Century Fox) (top); Sarah Jessica Parker, Hugh Grant in Did You Hear About the Morgans? (Barry Wetcher / Columbia) (middle); Robert Pattinson in The Twilight Saga: New Moon (Kimberley French / Summit Entertainment) (bottom)

James Cameron's new sci-fi epic Avatar landed at the No. 1 spot at the North American box office this weekend with a solid – but hardly record-breaking – $73 million in ticket sales, according to studio estimates Sunday. Early estimates predicted the film would bag up to $80 million.

Currently playing in 2D, 3D and IMAX at 3,452 locations, Avatar scored a superb average of $21,147 per theater. In the film, Sam Worthington (above, with Laz Alonso) plays a former marine who is sent to win over the trust of a native population on a distant planet that boasts minerals invaluable to the human race. (Avatar is budgeted at around $230 million – though some say production costs were actually much higher.)

Did You Hear About the Morgans?, this weekend's other wide release, debuted in fourth place with only $7 million from ticket sales at 2,718 locations. The comedy stars Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker as a couple forced to enter a witness-protection program.

At No. 2, Disney's The Princess and the Frog generated another $12.2 million, lifting its cumulative gross to $44.7 million. Following in third place with $10 million was the Sandra Bullock vehicle The Blind Side, which reached a domestic total of $164.7 million.

Chris Weitz's The Twilight Saga: New Moon, starring Robert Pattinson (above), Kristen Stewart, and Taylor Lautner, finished fifth this weekend, taking home $4.3 million for a cume of $274.5 million after a stunning five-week run in release.

Clint Eastwood's Invictus, starring Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman (as Nelson Mandela), followed at No. 6, earning $4.1 million for a total haul of a highly disappointing $15.8 million. Disney's A Christmas Carol, featuring Jim Carrey, collected $3.4 million, enough for the seventh spot. The film's total currently stands at $130.7 million.

Entering the top 10 after expanding to 175 locations was Jason Reitman's George Clooney vehicle Up in the Air, which has won numerous film critics awards and is up for several Golden Globes and SAG Awards. Up in the Air, co-starring Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick, grossed a solid $3.1 million for an early cume of $8.1 million at No. 8.

Jim Sheridan's Brothers, with Tobey Maguire, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Natalie Portman, finished ninth with $2.6 million ($22 million domestic total), while Disney's Old Dogs, a much-panned comedy starring John Travolta and Robin Williams, pulled $2.2 million for a total gross of $43.5 million.

At least in part thanks to the blizzard wreaking havoc on the East Coast of the United States, James Cameron's Avatar fell several million dollars short of its expected $85 million weekend gross. Of course, the film's estimated (on Sunday) $73 million take is pretty remarkable, but much better (even if not record-breaking) was its box office take internationally. On its first weekend (in some countries, Avatar opened on Wed or Thu), Avatar earned $232.2 million worldwide.

As per The Hollywood Reporter, markets that brought in more than $10 million over the weekend were Russia ($21 million), France ($19 million), the U.K. ($14.2 million), Germany ($13.2 million), Australia ($11.3 million), Spain ($11 million), and South Korea ($10.8 million).

According to reports, 20th Century Fox has been quick to declare that the zillions (okay, depending on the source, anywhere between $350 millionand $700m, including distribution and advertising costs) it spent on Cameron's 3D extravaganza was money well spent. But perhaps Fox has been a bit too quick.

The only way to find out for sure if Avatar will earn the studio a profit is if it has some very sturdy legs. A $230 million gross, most of it generated in foreign markets, means the studio itself will likely see $90-105 million coming to its coffers. The rest goes to exhibitors, local distributors, and other above-the-line companies and talent.

In the United States (and Canada), Avatar failed to match the $77.2 million December debut set two years ago by Will Smith's I Am Legend, but it now holds the record for a film opening in 3-D, having surpassed Up's $68.1 million earlier this year. (Remember, these rankings are not adjusted for inflation, though in the case of Up that wouldn't have made much of a difference.)

An ecologically conscious adventure tale set in the 22nd century, Avatar stars Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana. The supporting cast includes Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Giovanni Ribisi, CCH Pounder, Laz Alonso, and West Studi. The film – which to a certain extent sounds like War of the Worlds in reverse, with human beings as the nasty aliens – has been generally greeted by positive reviews. (I still haven't watched it.)

Curiously, Avatar hasn't opened in at least six countries: Argentina, Uruguay, Poland, Japan, China, and Italy. The last three are major markets for Hollywood productions.

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The Los Angeles Westside may not be getting a new suburb, after all.

James Cameron's sci-fi spectacle Avatar seems to be doing quite well at the box office, after grossing $3.5 million at midnight screenings on Friday. According to Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood, Avatar was earning on a par with Star Trek earlier in the day, but later pulled ahead. It's now expected to gross more than $20 million on Friday, plus another $60 million or whereabouts on Saturday and Sunday for a grand total of $80-85 million – at least partly thanks to higher ticket prices for the 3D film.

Predicted snowstorms along the US East Coast and central states, however, may put a damper on the numbers. (No such worries in the Southwest; winter may be only three days away, but Los Angeles is about as dry and nearly as hot as the Kalahari.)

Now, for comparison's sake: thanks to the Robert Pattinson-Kristen Stewart effect, Chris Weitz's The Twilight Saga: New Moon's opening weekend generated $142.8 million in ticket sales. And in 2D.

And just as importantly: Will those blue aliens have legs?

Well, that's hard to tell. But even if their legs aren't as long as their ears, Fox won't have to sell what's left of its backlot. (Thanks to Fox's Cleopatra debacle back in the early 1960s, Century City was born.) As per Finke's piece, Avatar is doing remarkably well overseas, including Australia, South Korea, and Germany. Even if “remarkably well” doesn't exactly mean “record-breaking.”

Photo: Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

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13 Comments to 'Avatar': James Cameron Fantasy Is Global Blockbuster

  1. Dante Washington

    This is not a racist movie. It is about selling tickets at the box office and relating to the majority of the viewers. I guarantee you the majority of the movie viewers will be white, so why not pick a white leading roll who becomes the hero. Why didn't they pick a White person to play the leading roll in Precious? Should we call that Racist? this is a new era and people like you only hold everyone back. I don't see race, I only see people.

  2. Ben

    I'm not going to come off with some racial thing about this movie, but I will tell you this is the best movie I had ever seen.
    The Movie was a thrill ride all the way through and I will buy it and probably see it again in the theatre … Can't we just be entertained in America without everything being about race?

  3. Ron

    Steve, I can't say I thought the movie was racist, but I can say you make a lot of sense in many things you've said and have caused me to think. I do not choose to see the movie as racist, however I did pick up on the theme of humans (being the “civilized” in this scenario) profaning that which we don't understand. In real life, this is just like English settlers and the Indians, et cetera. I thought the movie was beautiful and covered more than just race, but also what it sacred and important to us, and why. We need to delve into this deply to come to terms with one another and ourselves. Many live by what culture tells them, and don't ask these questions, so never really live and make positive steps forward for the human race. Movies like this make me happy because it unnerves people, and if they have any critical thinking skills, they will walk away wondering why, and do something about it. That is my hope at least.

  4. Steve Real

    Avatar is a classic scenario you've seen in Hollywood epics from Dances With Wolves, Dune, District 9 and The Last Samurai, where a white guy manages to get himself accepted into a closed society of people of color and eventually becomes its most awesome member.

    If we think of Avatar and its ilk as white fantasies about race, what kinds of patterns do we see emerging in these fantasies?

    A white man who was one of the oppressors switches sides at the last minute, assimilating into the alien culture and becoming its savior.
    These are movies about white guilt. Our main white characters realize that they are complicit in a system which is destroying aliens, AKA people of color - their cultures, their habitats, and their populations.

    The whites realize this when they begin to assimilate into the “alien” cultures and see things from a new perspective. To purge their overwhelming sense of guilt, they switch sides, become “race traitors,” and fight against their old comrades. But then they go beyond assimilation and become leaders of the people they once oppressed.

    This is the essence of the white guilt fantasy, laid bare. It's not just a wish to be absolved of the crimes whites have committed against people of color; it's not just a wish to join the side of moral justice in battle. It's a wish to lead people of color from the inside rather than from the (oppressive, white) outside.

  5. Steve Real

    I saw Avatar yesterday and I can't help to notice the rascists aspects to the movie, especially in the language and music. It reminded me of the Heart of Darkness were the “White man” brings civilization to the “Black Africans” and you can hear this in Africaner style in the music and lanquage. It's a rascist movie no doubt about it, but I liked it anyways. The “White man” reigned superior to the “Black man” in the end. Check it out and tell me if I'm wrong…

  6. Tommy Kid

    December 19, 09 7:27AM

    This movie is just a dream! “WOW”

    There is a part on “AVATAR” where the Colonel (BAD DUDE) is firing rounds from his gunship at an specific target. Boy, with my 3D glasses I felt he was firing at me. I could see the rounds coming my direction. It was like I was inside the movie at times!

    Cant wait to see “AVATAR 2 ”

    There should be an Oscar Category called “DREAM”
    for “AVATAR”

    ADVICE: AVATAR 3D version IMAX or Digital 3D


  7. Joe

    With the very high gross rating and earnings in days - the movie Avatar definitely had the best Christmas Eve celebration. I will have to go watch the movie myself - the photos you shared are just simply amazing. - Manila

  8. Jax

    On Jan. 14 in my town all shows are still sold out and you had better get there at least an hour early to stand in line for a good seat-and you had better have brought pre-paid tickets with you or you won't get a seat at all. This movie will break all records guaranteed.

  9. mike123

    well looks like Avatar DOES have sturdy legs like a soccer player. Now at No. 2 all-time box office record. And what's interesting is I went to watch it 2nd time at IMAX 3D last night (Jan 7th), it's still a sold out at 10pm and people lined up 2 hrs ahead to get center seats. There were quite few 2nd or even 3rd timers among the lineups. Hands down for James Cameroon, now he owns no.1 and 2 spots in movie history. Can't wait for more from him.

  10. Ashok

    This is perhaps the finest movies ever made… I was glued to my seat throughout the movie… Every thing was perfect about the movie - the breadth-taking graphics, the acting, the script and the most appreciating part was the movie's Direction James Cameroon had set the bar and raised it to such an extent that is difficult (if not impossible) for others to achieve Terminator, Titanic and now Avatar.. they'll be movies that'll be known for a very long time

  11. AL

    Best movie I have seen in 30 years. Best sci-fi EVER, well maybe.

  12. Naviblue.com

    yes I see the same reaction. Funny I watched it in IMAX 3D and now want to go see it a second time in 2D and hope that I can better pay attention to other subtleties about the movie.

  13. Aaron Jenkins

    As an usher at a movie theater with only one 3-D projector, I see the immediate reaction of the customers right as they walk out the door, And the movie goers that see soldout Avatar's in 3-D appear the most blown away. The customers who saw avatar in 2-D apear almsot equally impressed and i have overheard several of them talking about how they wish they saw avatar in 3-D and coming back to see the 3-D version because they loved the movie so much. Now im not sure if Avatars 2nd weekend will beat its 1st like many are saying, but this film will easily beat 300 million domestically and 500 million global.