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Box Office Records: Manufactured or Real? & The 'Avatar' Billion

Avatar Zoe Saldana Na'Vi blue digital make-up'Avatar': Zoe Saldana wears Na'vi blue digital make-up in global blockbuster.

'Avatar' passes $1 billion milestone worldwide

Jan. 4, '10, update: Avatar, James Cameron's 3D mix of science-fiction, fantasy, and action/adventure, passed the $1 billion milestone worldwide on the first weekend of 2010 (Jan. 1–3) after adding an estimated $68.3 million in North America for a domestic cume of $352.1 million after only 17 days out, in addition to a total of $670.2 million at the international box office.

In the U.S. and Canada (Mexico isn't included in the Hollywood studios' “North American” or “domestic” box office tallies), Avatar scored a remarkable $19,724 average at 3,461 venues, leaving the year-end competition far behind.

Na'vi ahead of dinosaurs, following 'Christ'

Jan. 5, '10, update: Avatar, which earlier today received a 2010 Producers Guild Award nomination, continued to keep the domestic box office afire on Monday, Jan. 4, even if overall figures have dropped dramatically now that the year-end holiday season is over.

On Monday, Avatar earned an estimated $8.1 million; partly thanks to inflation and 3D/IMAX surcharges, it is now the 14th highest-grossing movie of all time in the U.S. and Canada, ahead of Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park ($357.1 million, 1993) while edging closer and closer to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ ($370.8 million, 2004).

'Avatar' cast

The Avatar cast features the following:

Sam Worthington. Zoe Saldana. Stephen Lang. Giovanni Ribisi. CCH Pounder. Wes Studi. Dileep Rao.

Three-time Oscar nominee Sigourney Weaver (lead for Aliens, 1986, and Gorillas in the Mist, 1988; supporting for Working Girl, 1988).

Joel David Moore. Matt Gerald. Laz Alonso. Michelle Rodriguez. Sean Patrick Murphy. Sean Anthony Moran.

'Sherlock Holmes' weaker than the Na'vi, (barely) stronger than 'Chipmunks'

Trailing Avatar at a distant – albeit strong – second, Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes scored an estimated $38.3 million this past weekend, reaching a domestic cume of $140.6 million after ten days out.

Toplining Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law in the old Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce roles, with Rachel McAdams as the official leading lady, Sherlock Holmes – bombastically made to please 12-year-olds everywhere – managed a strong $10,586 average at 3,626 sites.

Gnawing at Sherlock Holmes' heels was Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, which collected $36.6 million, bringing its domestic total to $157.3 million after 12 days. For comparison's sake, the first Chipmunks movie, Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007), finished its North American run with $217.3 million.

Meryl Streep among Top Five

At no. 4, Nancy Meyers' ensemble comedy It's Complicated, took in $18.7 million. Total to date: $59.1 million. In the cast:

Two-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep (supporting for Kramer vs. Kramer, 1979; lead for Sophie's Choice, 1982).

Steve Martin. Alec Baldwin. Lake Bell. Mary Kay Place. John Krasinski. Hunter Parrish. Rita Wilson.

Alexandra Wentworth. Zoe Kazan. Caitlin FitzGerald. Nora Dunn. James Patrick Stewart. Emjay Anthony.

Ramin Djawadi. Heitor Pereira. Cameos: Alan Cumming. Oprah Winfrey.

It's Complicated Meryl Streep Steve Martin Hunter Parrish'It's Complicated' with Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Hunter Parrish, Zoe Kazan and Caitlin FitzGerald.

Sandra Bullock reaches $200 million

Trailing It's Complicated was another movie revolving around a female character. Starring Sandra Bullock, John Lee Hancock's sleeper blockbuster The Blind Side added $12.6 million, reaching $209 million – and thus passing the $200 million mark.

Also in The Blind Side:

Tim McGraw. Quinton Aaron. Jae Head. Lily Collins. Ray McKinnon. Kim Dickens.

Best Actress Oscar winner Kathy Bates (Misery, 1990).

George Clooney ahead of, Hugh Grant behind 'Frog'

Starring 2009 U.S. critics' fave George Clooney, Up in the Air was the no. 6 movie on the chart, raking in $11.3 million from 1,895 locations. Domestic cume: $45 million. Jason Reitman's socially conscious drama also features Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick.

The Walt Disney Studios' The Princess and the Frog pulled in $10 million at no. 7, lifting its total take to $86 million. Further down the line, the widely derided Did You Hear About the Morgans? brought in $5.2 million. Total: $25.6 million. In the cast: Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant.

'Nine' bombs at no. 9, 'New Moon' dims at no. 11

Rounding out the Top Ten this weekend were:

  • The less-than-enthusiastically received musical Nine, a major box office bomb that took in $4.3 million in ninth place. Total: $14 million.
    Dir.: Rob Marshall.
    Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis. Nicole Kidman. Penélope Cruz. Marion Cotillard. Sophia Loren. Kate Hudson. Fergie.
  • The commercial disappointment Invictus with $4.1 million. Total: $30.7 million.
    Dir.: Clint Eastwood.
    Cast: Morgan Freeman (as Nelson Mandela). Matt Damon.

Among the Top Ten movies, The Weinstein Company's costly and eagerly awaited Nine has turned out to be the biggest disappointment. Poor reviews certainly didn't help this $80 million film adaptation of Mario Fratti, Mary Weston, and Arthur Kopit's Broadway musical, itself a musicalized adaptation of Federico Fellini's 1963 classic , with Daniel Day-Lewis in the old Marcello Mastroianni role (Antonio Banderas on stage).

In case Nine manages to win a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Comedy or musical (not all that likely) or if it receives multiples Oscar nominations (a possibility), box office returns may get a boost in early 2010.

And finally, Chris Weitz's The Twilight Saga: New Moon is now gone from the Top Ten. Even so, the Robert Pattinson-Kristen Stewart-Taylor Lautner vampire-human-werewolf triangle scored another $3.6 million, reaching a fantastic $287.7 million domestic total.

New Moon was followed by Jim Sheridan's Brothers, starring another triangle – Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, and Tobey Maguire – at no. 12. The Hollywood remake of Susanne Bier's 2004 Danish drama collected $1.6 million. Total to date: $27.5 million.

The original film starred 2004 San Sebastian Film Festival winners Connie Nielsen and Ulrich Thomsen, in addition to Nikolaj Lie Kaas.

Avatar Zoe Saldana Sam Worthington Na'Vi native 3D-enchanced Pandora'Avatar' with Zoe Saldana as Na'Vi native and Sam Worthington as earthling who – quite literally – goes native in the 3D-enchanced world of Pandora.

'Avatar' beats 'Spider-Man'?

Jan. 3 update: According to figures found in The Hollywood Reporter, James Cameron's Avatar has earned (or rather, is earning – the weekend isn't over) $68.3 million on its third weekend, breaking another record (not accounting for inflation and higher 3D/IMAX ticket prices).

The previous record holder for weekend no. 3 was the Sam Raimi-Tobey Maguire superhero flick Spider-Man, which collected $45 million in 2002 (approx. $52 million in 2009/10).

After 17 days, Avatar has taken in a total of $352.1 million at the domestic box office, 75 percent of which at higher-priced 3D theaters. It's currently no. 15 on the list of all-time biggest domestic box office hits ever.

Eventually, Avatar should overtake even Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight to become the second biggest domestic grosser ever, right behind Cameron's own Titanic.

In its first 17 days in the U.S. and Canada, Titanic earned $241 million adjusted for inflation (but not for 3D/IMAX premiums) according to Box Office Mojo. This late 1997 release, however, was initially screened in fewer theaters than Avatar and kept picking up steam as the weeks went by thanks at least in part to teenagers enthralled by Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet's doomed love affair.

'Avatar' tops international box office

Overseas, Avatar added $133 million this weekend, lifting its international total to a staggering $670 million. At $1.02 billion, its current worldwide gross is behind only that of three movies:

  • Titanic, with $1.84 billion.
  • Peter Jackson's Best Picture Oscar winner The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, with $1.11 billion.
  • The Gore Verbinski-Johnny Depp collaboration Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, with $1.06 billion.

The Reporter adds that Avatar “was reportedly the most expensive film ever made, with a budget of at least $300 million.” That's about $80 million more than what 20th Century Fox claims Avatar cost to produce.

James Cameron's first narrative feature since Titanic, Avatar stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, three-time Oscar nominee Sigourney Weaver.

The Blind Side Sandra Bullock Tim McGraw box office sleeper of the year'The Blind Side': Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw star in the box office sleeper of the year.

'Avatar' passes $300 million, Sandra Bullock passes $200 million

Jan. 2 update: Avatar grossed an estimated $25 million at the domestic box office on Friday, New Year's Day, easily passing the $300 million mark. The total domestic gross of James Cameron's 3D fantasy currently stands at $308.8 million. Worldwide, it's at more than $800 million. For this weekend (Jan. 1–3), estimates have been hovering around $60 million.

Sherlock Holmes, featuring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, and Rachel McAdams, earned an estimated $14.8 million on Friday. Next in line were:

  • Alvin and Chipmunks: The Squeakquel with $13 million.
  • The Meryl Streep romantic comedy It's Complicated with $7.1 million.
  • Jason Reitman's likely 2010 Oscar contender Up in the Air with $4 million. George Clooney stars.

And finally, Sandra Bullock's The Blind Side crossed the $200 million mark domestically after raking in $4.5 million. John Lee Hancock's sentimental socially conscious drama also featuring Tim McGraw and Quinton Aaron has been out for seven weeks.

The Blind Side has yet to open internationally.

Hooray for Hollywood: Top U.S. studios' international box office breaks record

A total of $10.7 billion. That's the 2009 box office overseas gross for Hollywood's six major studios according to early estimates published in The Hollywood Reporter. That's also an all-time record and an increase of 7 percent from 2008.

Top Hollywood hits overseas include Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, 2012, Avatar, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and the Summit Entertainment release The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Only three of 2009's Top Ten domestic grossers – The Hangover, Star Trek, and Monsters vs. Aliens – earned more money in the U.S. and Canada than internationally.

These figures are remarkable, of course, but as always they should be placed in context. For starters, the U.S. dollar has lost quite a bit of its value in a number of key movie markets, which means larger dollar amounts after local currencies are converted.

Also, the Hollywood studios won't see all that money pouring into their coffers, as local distributors, exhibitors, and governments will grab a sizable chunk of the grosses.

Cinema life elsewhere

And finally, it's worth remembering that the box office take reported above covers only the six Hollywood majors. I know it's hard to believe if you live in the U.S. and/or read only American publications, but there are lots of people making movies outside of both Hollywood and the United States. And some of these movies are very successful.

Here is a list of a few countries and their biggest local hits of the past year:

  • Brazil: If I Were You 2, $32 million.
  • China: The Founding of a Republic, $60.7 million.
  • France*: Le Petit Nicolas, $48.3 million.
  • Spain: Agora, $30.2 million.
  • Sweden: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, 1.2 million local admissions; approx. $100 million worldwide.

* Includes former colonies Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco, in addition to tiny Monaco.

Cineuropa was a good source for this brief list.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Daniel Radcliffe worldwide box office title'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince' with Daniel Radcliffe hanging on to the title of Worldwide Box Office Leader.

'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince' biggest worldwide box office hit of the year

Directed by David Yates, and starring Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson, the Warner Bros. release Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was the biggest worldwide box office hit of 2009, grossing $929.4 million. More than two-thirds of that amount ($627.4 million) came from outside the U.S. and Canada.

In second place was 20th Century Fox's animated Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, with $887.6 million ($691 million, or 77.9 percent, internationally).

In third, Michael Bay's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen raked in $835 million ($432.9 million, or 51.8 percent, internationally). Megan Fox, Shia LaBeouf, and Josh Duhamel star.

James Cameron's Avatar – which opened near the end of the year – came in fourth, with $760 million ($476.2 million, or 62.7 percent, internationally).

China's biggest box office hit ever

Roland Emmerich's 2012 was no. 5 with $734 million ($572.8 million, or 78 percent, overseas – where the disaster flick became China's biggest box office hit ever). In the cast: John Cusack, Amanda Peet, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Thandie Newton.

Rounding out the Top Ten:

  • Up with $683 million ($390 million, or 57.1 percent, internationally).
  • The Twilight Saga: New Moon with $665.4 million ($381.5 million, or 57.3 percent, internationally).
  • The Ron Howard-Tom Hanks collaboration Angels & Demons, with $485.9 million ($352.6 million, or 72.6 percent, internationally).
  • The Hangover with $459.4 million ($182.1 million, or 39.6 percent, internationally).
  • The Ben Stiller flick Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, with $412.7 million ($235.4 million, or 57.1 percent, internationally).

Looking at these numbers, it's obvious that the major U.S. studios currently earn most of their money overseas – at least at the box office.

Among the Top Ten worldwide 2009 releases, the only one that made more money domestically than abroad was Todd Phillips' comedy The Hangover. Even then, nearly 40 percent of that film's grosses originated outside the U.S. and Canada.

That's why one shouldn't underestimate the importance of the international market when it comes to what movies get produced and/or distributed by U.S. studios.

With the exception of The Twilight Saga: New Moon, in which Kristen Stewart plays the central role, and perhaps Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (no actual humans), last year's biggest worldwide blockbusters were all focused on male characters (whether live or animated). And as to be expected, action and special effects were most everywhere on screen.

'Avatar' no. 16 among Top Thursday grossers

Jan. 1 update: Avatar brought in an estimated $14.9 million on Thursday, New Year's Eve. James Cameron's 3D blockbuster is now no. 16 among the top Thursday grossers ever (not counting inflation or 3D/IMAX surcharges), right behind Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

The official top Thursday earner ever remains George Lucas' Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, with more than $50 million on opening day in May 2005. All but three of the top 15 films listed on the chart took in their impressive amounts on one of their first three days out. The only exceptions are:

  • Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight at no. 14: $16.4 million on Day 7.
  • The aforementioned The Two Towers at no. 15: $15.4 million on Day 9.

After 14 days out, Avatar has taken in $283.8 million at the domestic box office. It's fifth biggest 2009 release, having just surpassed The Hangover. (See 2009 chart further below.)

'Titanic' vs. 'Avatar': Comparing icebergs and Pandorans

Inevitably, many have been comparing Avatar's box office grosses to those of James Cameron's previous worldwide blockbuster, Titanic. For the most part, such comparisons are – at best – misguided.

For starters, ticket prices are on average much higher today – $4.59 in 1998 vs. $7.46 in 2009 – while most of Avatar's money has been generated at 3D/IMAX houses that charge premiums. For instance, $17.50 is the cost for one adult to check out Avatar at a 3D/IMAX AMC theater in Los Angeles.

Moreover, back in 1998 Titanic was screened at fewer theaters than Avatar and its running time is more than half an hour longer.

All these things should be taken into account when comparing Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet's 2D romance to the 3D Na'vi effect.

'Avatar' trailer features one single 'name' star: James Cameron (and his movies). Actors – including three-time Oscar nominee Sigourney Weaver – are seen and heard, but their names go unmentioned.

'Avatar' budget: Wild speculations

Reported production costs for Avatar have ranged from $200–$220 million (according to 20th Century Fox) to more than $500 million, in addition to prints, advertising, and distribution expenses, which initially added another $150 million to the film's final cost.

So, even though grosses have been astonishing – Avatar has been out for only 15 days – the film probably still has some ways to go before it earns Fox a profit even if its budget is placed at the lower end of the scale. (Also, it all depends on how much of its own money Fox shelled out to produce Avatar.)

As a rule of thumb, studios get approximately 50-55 percent of the box office take in the domestic market and 40 percent of the international gross. Percentages, however, can vary widely depending on contractual stipulations, e.g., if the film makes most of its money on week no. 1 that's great for the studio; it's not so great if the grosses come in installments as is the case with Avatar.

Additionally, Fox will most likely have to share some of its earnings with above-the-line talent and partner producing companies. And the longer Avatar stays out, the costlier the marketing campaign.

Of course, at this stage it's nearly impossible for Fox not to make a profit on the film, especially considering Avatar's inevitably long life on DVD, pay-per-view, etc., both domestically and internationally.

'Avatar': Sixth biggest hit of 2009 – in 13 days

Dec. 31 update: Yesterday, Wednesday, Dec. 30, Avatar earned another staggering among at the U.S. and Canada box office: $18.4 million.

The record for the Biggest Wednesday in December, however, still belongs to Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, with $34.4 million on Day 1 in 2003. The final film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy was followed by:

  • The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers with $26.1 million on Day 1 in 2002.
  • Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel with $18.8 million on Day 1 last week.

After 13 days out, the total domestic gross of James Cameron's 3D fantasy adventure stands at $268.9 million. Avatar is officially the top December opener ever (having surpassed Will Smith's I Am Legend) and it's now the sixth biggest grosser of 2009, following:

  • Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen with $402.11 million.
    Dir.: Michael Bay.
    Cast: Shia LaBeouf. Megan Fox. Josh Duhamel. Tyrese Gibson. John Turturro.
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince with $301.95 million.
    Dir.: David Yates.
    Cast: Daniel Radcliffe. Emma Watson. Rupert Grint. Jim Broadbent. Helena Bonham Carter. Michael Gambon. Alan Rickman.
  • Up with $293 million.
    Dir.: Pete Docter and co-director Bob Peterson.
    Voice Cast: Edward Asner. Christopher Plummer.
  • The Twilight Saga: New Moon with $284.51 million.
    Dir.: Chris Weitz.
    Cast: Kristen Stewart. Robert Pattinson. Taylor Lautner. Dakota Fanning. Michael Sheen. Elizabeth Reaser. Peter Facinelli. Ashley Greene. Nikki Reed. Jackson Rathbone. Kellan Lutz.
  • The Hangover with $277.32 million.
    Dir.: Todd Phillips.
    Cast: Bradley Cooper. Zach Galifianakis. Ed Helms. Justin Bartha. Heather Graham.

Internationally, Avatar earned $36.9 million on Wednesday, for a total of $525.3 million. Approximately two-thirds of the film's overall revenue has come from overseas. Worldwide cume to date: $794.2 million.

As found at deadline.com, domestic attendance figures for 2009 are the highest in five years, with 1.42 billion tickets sold in the United States and Canada at an average price of $7.46.

'Avatar' no. 3 (again): Best Tuesday domestic grosses ever

Dec. 30: Avatar can now be found in the no. 3 spot on Box Office Mojo's chart of the biggest Tuesday grossers ever (not adjusted for inflation or higher 3D/IMAX ticket prices). Oh, wait. Avatar was no. 3 last week as well. And it still is.

Yesterday, Tuesday, Dec. 29, James Cameron's 3D fantasy adventure took in an outstanding $18.2 million – its 12th day out. The previous Tuesday, Avatar had grossed $16 million. So now, Avatar is both no. 3 and no. 4 on the chart. And it's no. 1 and no. 2 for the biggest Tuesday box office grosses in the month of December.

Michael Bay's Transformers, with $27.8 million on opening day, and Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, with $20.8 million on Day 5, occupy the top spots on the Biggest Tuesday list. Both films had July release dates.

For comparison's sake: on Day 12, also a Tuesday, The Dark Knight grossed $9.2 million, about half of what Avatar earned yesterday. Having said that, remember that Avatar's ticket prices are costlier and that this is the Tuesday between Christmas and New Year's, when lots of people have plenty of free time in their hands.

Avatar's current total take at the domestic box office is $250.4 million. In the cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and veteran Sigourney Weaver (Ghostbusters, The Ice Storm).

 

Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana Avatar images: WETA / 20th Century Fox.

Image of Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Hunter Parrish, Zoe Kazan, and Caitlin FitzGerald in It's Complicated: Melinda Sue Gordon / Universal Pictures.

Tim McGraw and Sandra Bullock The Blind Side image: Ralph Nelson / Warner Bros.

Daniel Radcliffe Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince image: Warner Bros.

Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana, Sam Worthington, and James Cameron's name in Avatar trailer: 20th Century Fox.

Dec. 28

With some final box office figures in by now, according to the Box Office Mojo chart Avatar earned pretty much exactly what had been expected: $75.6 million over the Christmas weekend. Its total domestic take currently stand at $212.7 million. Directed by James Cameron, the ecologically conscious sci-fi epic stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver.

Thanks to the success of Avatar, movie-business “experts” are now predicting that 3D films will dominate the market, that movie stars are a thing of the past, and that “originality” – as in something not derived from a videogame or comic strip – is now the thing. Considering the myriad predictions by “experts” from movie-time immemorial, predictions that have been way, way off the mark, those gurus' foretellings should be taken with a large grain – make it a boulder – of salt.

But one thing is for sure: James Cameron's expletive-filled spat with a “fan” at the Los Angeles airport didn't hurt business. Or if it did, no one noticed it. Or cared. The encounter, which looks like it's been both set up and edited for effect, took place a few days ago and has been available online since then. Funny how “fans” know exactly when and where a celebrity is arriving at an airport. Dangerous, too.

Photo: WETA / 20th Century Fox

Sam Worthington in Avatar (Mark Fellman / 20th Century Fox)

Addendum: James Cameron's Avatar has broken its own “Monday in December” record. According to the Box Office Mojo Monday chart, yesterday Avatar earned an estimated $19.4 million ($5,619 per screen) at the U.S. and Canada box office, landing in the chart's #7 slot. Last Monday, Cameron's sci-fi adventure had grossed $16.3 million.

Still ahead of Avatar are Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2 ($27.6 million), with Tobey Maguire; Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ($26,7 million), with Harrison Ford and Cate Blanchett; the Johnny Depp vehicle Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End ($25m); Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, with Christian Bale and Heath Ledger ($24.4m); Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, and Conrad Vernon's animated feature Shrek 2 ($23.4m); and Brett Ratner's X-Men: The Last Stand ($20.1 million), with Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry.

None of the above films opened in December. And only Shrek 2 made more than Avatar on a “second” Monday (not the one following the film's opening weekend). But bear in mind that ticket prices have risen in the last few years and that tickets for Avatar are even more expensive because of 3D/IMAX surcharges.

According to Box Office Mojo, in its first 11 days Avatar has grossed a remarkable $232.1 million domestically and a worldwide total of nearly $643 million.

Avatar stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Giovanni Ribisi, Laz Alonso, and Wes Studi.

For the record: Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel earned $12 million (#30) and Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law, grossed another $11.1 million on its first Monday out.

Others still doing well as the new week begins are Meryl Streep's It's Complicated, with $4.2 million, and Sandra Bullock's The Blind Side, with $2.8. In limited release, Jeff Bridges' Crazy Heart has grossed approximately $360,000.

Dec. 27 afternoon

James Cameron's Avatar prevailed at the North American box office this weekend as the sci-fi spectacle regained the No. 1 spot with another stunning $75 million in ticket sales, according to studio estimates Sunday.

Even though Avatar was dethroned Friday by new entry Sherlock Holmes, the film regained momentum Saturday and Sunday to emerge as the weekend's winner. Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver, Avatar has brought its domestic total to a solid $212.2 million.

Jude Law, Robert Downey Jr in Sherlock Holmes

Guy Ritchie's new take on Sherlock Holmes also delivered a strong performance at the box office, bagging a superb $65.3 million from ticket sales at 3,626 locations. Starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, the adventure thriller scored an average of $18,031 per theater.

At No. 3, new entry Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel picked up $50.2 million, with an average of $13,568 per theater at 3,700 locations. The sequel, which opened Wednesday, lifted its early total gross to $77 million.

Meryl Streep in It's Complicated

Following at a distant No. 4 was Nancy Meyers' new R-rated comedy It's Complicated, which generated a respectable $22.1 million at 2,887 screens. Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin star in this romantic comedy about a divorced couple having an affair.

Meanwhile, Jason Reitman's acclaimed dramatic comedy Up in the Air expanded into 1,895 locations this weekend, earning $11.7 million for a total gross of $24.5 million. Potential Oscar contenders George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick star.

Still going strong after six weeks in release is Sandra Bullock's drama The Blind Side, which reached a cumulative gross of $184.3 million after this weekend's earnings of $11.7 million. The Blind Side was produced on a budget of only $29 million.

Disney's The Princess and the Frog took a big dive and landed in seventh place, pulling $8.6 million for a total of $63.3 million. Following at No. 8 was Rob Marshall's all-star musical Nine, which finished the weekend with a disappointing $5.5 million. Nine stars Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penélope Cruz, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, Fergie, and Sophia Loren.

Sony's new Sarah Jessica Parker-Hugh Grant comedy Did You Hear About the Morgans? slipped to ninth place with $5 million, reaching a meager domestic total of $15.5 million after three weeks in release. Clint Eastwood's rugby drama Invictus, starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, rounded out the top 10 with $4.3 million (a disappointing $23.3 million total).

The Twilight Saga: New Moon fell out of the top ten this weekend. At #11, the Chris Weitz-directed supernatural romance earned $3 million for a total of $280.9 million. This second installment of the Twilight franchise stars Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, and Taylor Lautner.

It's been record-breaking Christmas weekend this year; also remarkable is that three films – Avatar, Sherlock Holmes, Alvin and the Chipmunks - reached the No. 1 spot at some point during the week. As a plus, Avatar dropped only 2.6 percent compared to last weekend, and indication the film will continue to deliver strong earnings next week.

Photos: Avatar (WETA / 20th Century Fox); Sherlock Holmes (Alex Bailey / Warner Bros.); It's Complicated (Melinda Sue Gordon / Universal); The Twilight Saga: New Moon (Kimberley French / Summit Entertainment)

Dec. 27 early morning

Sam Worthington, Stephen Lang in Avatar
Jude Law, Robert Downey Jr. in Sherlock Holmes
Sam Worthington, Stephen Lang in Avatar (WETA / 20th Century Fox) (top); Jude Law, Robert Downey Jr. in Sherlock Holmes (Alex Bailey / Warner Bros.) (bottom)

After falling behind Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes on Christmas Day, Avatar ended up victorious at the Christmas weekend box office. James Cameron's sci-fi spectacle grossed $75 million throughout what turned out to be the most successful weekend ever – $264.1 million – at the domestic box office (not counting inflation).

According to the Box Office Mojo chart, the previous record-holder was the July 18-20 weekend – $253.5 million – when The Dark Knight led the pack with $158.4 million. Now in third place is the Robert Pattinson-Kristen Stewart-Taylor Lautner vampire-werewolf-human triangle The Twilight Saga: New Moon opening weekend (Nov. 20-22), when the second Twilight installment brought in $142.8 million, helping the weekend total reach $250 million.

For the record, the runners-up were the weekends topped by two Johnny Depp vehicles: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men's Chest and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End in, respectively, July 2006 and May 2007.

Back to Avatar: The film lost only 3 percent from its previous weekend earnings, something that is pretty remarkable. Ten days after its launch, Avatar has earned $212.3 in North America. It's now officially the top December grosser ever, having edged out Will Smith's I Am Legend (once again, not counting inflation and higher ticket prices for the 3D film).

Also helping fuel the box office craze were Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law in Sherlock Holmes, with $65.4 million, and kiddie flick Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, with $50.2 million. Meryl Streep came in fourth with a pretty strong $22.5 million for It's Complicated.

Jude Law, Robert Downey Jr in Sherlock Holmes
James Cameron's Avatar (WETA / 20th Century Fox) (top); Jude Law, Robert Downey Jr in Sherlock Holmes (Alex Bailey / Warner Bros.) (bottom)

Probably because of both the enormous publicity surrounding its production costs and the nearly mythical place of Titanic in box office history, Avatar's box office fate has been a major topic among film-related publications, whether online or elsewhere. So, here we go again.

According to Nikki Finke at Deadline Hollywood, James Cameron's sci-fi epic will come out on top this Christmas weekend despite having fallen behind Sherlock Holmes on Friday, Christmas Day. In her report, Finke says that as per her sources Avatar grossed anywhere between $28 and $32 million on Saturday. She adds that estimates for the film's weekend take range between $76-80 million – or about what Avatar made on its first weekend.

As for the Guy Ritchie-directed Sherlock Holmes, which stars Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law, it is expected to have earned ca. $23 million on Saturday for a weekend total of $65-66 million. That's not bad at all, but Finke says it's slightly lower than initially predicted.

Finke's article also includes an early weekend estimate chart. According to those figures, Meryl Streep's It's Complicated will earn a pretty good $23 million over the weekend, but the George Clooney vehicle Up in the Air, with less than $12 million, could be considered kind of a disappointment. Rob Marshall's all-star musical Nine, for its part, could be considered a major disappointment with only $5.5 million.

Final estimate figures – as opposed to final figures, period – will be made available in a few hours.

Dec. 26 afternoon

Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law in Sherlock Holmes
Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law in Sherlock Holmes (Alex Bailey / Warner Bros.) (top); Stephen Lang, Sam Worthington in Avatar (Mark Fellman / 20th Century Fox) (bottom)

According to the Box Office Mojo daily chart for Friday, for the second time this week James Cameron's sci-fi epic Avatar was the #2 movie at the U.S. and Canada box office. On Wednesday, it fell behind Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel; on Christmas Day, it fell behind the Guy Ritchie-directed new release Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law.

Figures were pretty impressive: Sherlock Holmes took in $24.8 million, while Avatar (with higher ticket prices, but fewer venues) grossed $23.5 million (total $160.7m). Alvin and the Chipmunks was further behind with $14.5 million, followed by the Nancy Meyers-directed Meryl Streep-Alec Baldwin-Steve Martin comedy It's Complicated with a strong $7 million.

Sherlock Holmes now holds the Christmas Day box office record. The previous record-holder was the Jennifer Aniston-Owen Wilson-Dog vehicle Marley & Me, which took in $14.5 million last year. The fact that this year's Christmas fell on a Friday, a typical movie-going day, seems to have helped grosses. According to “experts,” this will likely be the biggest Christmas weekend ever at the box office (with the usual assistance of higher ticket prices).

As for the pumped-up Sherlock Holmes battle against Avatar, the jury is still out as to which of the two will come out on top when the weekend is over. Avatar stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver. Also in the Sherlock Holmes cast are Rachel McAdams and Mark Strong.

Going down the box office chart, Up in the Air earned a just okay $3.5 million (or $1,873 per theater, about 25 percent less than It's Complicated) despite a spate of film awards and the presence of George Clooney, while the sentimental Sandra Bullock drama The Blind Side is still going strong with $3.3 million. At #7, Rob Marshall's Nine, its stellar cast (Daniel Day-Lewis, Penélope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, etc.) notwithstanding, grossed a disappointing $1.99 million, or only $1,413 per screen.

At the bottom of the top-ten list were The Princess and the Frog ($1.95 million), the major Hugh Grant-Sarah Jessica Parker flop Did You Hear About the Morgans? ($1.5 million), and Clint Eastwood's box office disappointment Invictus ($1.3 million), starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.

The Robert Pattinson-Kristen Stewart-Taylor Lautner vehicle The Twilight Saga: New Moon was #11, with $660,000 (total $278.6 million), followed by Disney's A Christmas Carol, with $485,000 (total $135.1m).

Dec. 26 early morning

box office record Avatar Sam WorthingtonSam Worthington and Stephen Lang in 'Avatar.'

Box Office Record? When a domestic box office record isn't really a record

Dec. 26, '09, update: Earlier this week, it was announced with much fanfare that despite the painful economic times the movie business is having a record year, with more than $10 billion earned at the U.S. and Canada box office in 2009. Among the year's biggest domestic blockbusters were Michael Bay's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, David Yate's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Chris Weitz's The Twilight Saga: New Moon, and Pete Docter's Up. Additionally, box office hits such as John Lee Hancock's The Blind Side and James Cameron's Avatar will have much of their income tallied only next year, along with – if they turn out to be commercially successful – Nancy Meyer's It's Complicated, Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes, Rob Marshall's Nine, Jason Reitman's Up in the Air, and Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones.

Now, although $10 billion is an impressive figure for a number of industries (definitely not for military contractors), it's an official box office record only because ticket prices keep going up nearly every year. In fact, Hollywood could break box office records annually if ticket prices were hiked up a certain percentage each calendar year so as to offset any expected drop (or lack of increase) in ticket sales.

Box office records: The inflation factor

Hollywood.com estimates that in 2009 ticket sales are up 9 percent in relation to 2008 (which had a 4.5 percent drop from the previous year), with a 5 percent rise in actual number of tickets sold. Yet, as reported in the New York Times, “when adjusted for inflation, 2002 had sales of $11.21 billion, while the totals for 2001, 2003 and 2004 also exceed this year's tally.”

Putting things in perspective: according to Box Office Mojo, 1.403 billion tickets have been sold in 2009, while in 2002 that figure reached 1.575 billion. The widely heralded domestic box office record-breaking looks considerably less smashing that way, doesn't it? (Outside the U.S. and Canada, Hollywood movies have collected $15 billion, up about 5 percent from 2008, though that figure can be partly explained by the U.S. dollar's dramatic drop in a number of key film markets.)

Banner year: 1947

Putting things in even better perspective: As per the National Association of Theater Owners, an estimated 70 million people went to the movies every week in the United States (population: 144 million) in 1947. That means approximately 3.664 billion tickets* were sold even without state-of-the-art special effects, multiplexes, megabudgeted sequels, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, or Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart.

The top movies of 1947?

Nearly all were big-studio star vehicles. Few of these movies boasted special effects (Green Dolphin Street has a major earthquake), offering instead – in middle-brow, highly commercial fashion – a mix of romance, adventure, drama, music, and comedy. It was a different type of audience then – hardly more sophisticated, but certainly older; also, television was just starting out, and there was no digital cable, DVD, pay-per-view options, all-sports channels, or online porn flicks and sex chatrooms to keep people away from movie houses. (See also: “Another domestic box office record?”)

Below is the list of the top 20 films of 1947, via boxofficereport.com:

* The biggest year at the U.S. box office was 1946, when 4.067 billion tickets were sold.

Stephen Lang and Sam Worthington Avatar photo: Mark Fellman / 20th Century Fox.

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20 Comments to Box Office Records: Manufactured or Real? & The 'Avatar' Billion

  1. Manila

    I have seen the movie trailer of the Avatar movie itself but I have not really been able to go watch it in the theaters. I will definitely have to see the movie for myself. Thank you for sharing such an interesting and informative article. - Manila :)

  2. ct seo consultant

    Avatar 3D was sold out locally so we saw it normal, about 10 minutes in I knew I'd come back to see it in 3D! Great job all around! Claims about its politics are a reflection of the claimants, the movie is just a story, get over yourselves!

  3. suri

    its raelly 8th wonder of world. james creat a new world. pandora………………………………………………………………!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    every one can see at least one time avatar movie. definetly u can feel live in a different
    and humanbeings very selfish to live in earth
    sooooooooooooooooooooooooo james really proud to be holllywooddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddd…

  4. sai krishna

    excellent movie of 2009-10

  5. jc

    I am pretty sure Avatar has to beat Titanic and Return of the King to become the highest grossing December movie.

  6. tavar

    I wanna see AVATAR again.

  7. tavar

    i forgot i wanna see sherlock homes too

  8. nintendo dsi r4

    you may see it then understand everything why i am saying to see it…Don't just see it. See it in 3D. See it in IMAX 3D. This presentation is easily one of the most spectacular things you will see on the big screen.

  9. Tech

    Avatar is a far better movie than Sherlock Holmes.

  10. bisle

    Sorry but Up in the air is not a disappointment at all. The film was only on 1850 screens for the first time this weekend. And has already gained more than what it costed. The film will be there for a very long time and is already a success. You should also look at its average by screen before making such a false statement.

  11. mh

    Even taking into account that “Up in the Air” had been around for a couple of weeks in very limited release, this weekend's figures were hardly great.

    “Up in the Air” isn't a flop, of course, but a $6,203 average per theater on a film's first weekend in wide release (1,895 screens) isn't great. It's just okay, especially when you think of all the positive buzz the film has gotten and that George Clooney is the star. Also, generally speaking, the fewer the # of screens, the higher the per-screen average should be.

    Meryl Streep's “It's Complicated,” playing in nearly 1,000 more screens (2,887) had a noticeably better average ($7,660) despite lukewarm to negative reviews. That's a solid opening for a “non-event” movie.

    And finally, “Up in the Air” is quite some ways from paying for itself. Even if it did cost $24m like the studio claims, this movie would have to earn about twice as much to fully cover its production costs as exhibitors and others keep about 50% of a movie's domestic take at the box office. Not counting what Paramount has spent on distribution, advertising, Oscar campaigns, etc., which will add millions to the film's total cost.

    Will “Up in the Air” make a profit? If it really cost $24m, sure it will. But not necessarily because of its take at the domestic box office. Unless the Clooney film has very long legs, profits will likely come after ancillary revenues (DVDs, foreign markets, etc) start coming in.

  12. Ker

    Glad nine bombed. It sucked.

  13. Doc Rock

    Apparently 'Box Office Mojo” is an inept organization, as of Sunday the headlines are all reading “Avatar easily beats Holmes at the Box Office”

    NEVER trust ANYTHING you read on the Internet before checking it out.

  14. mh

    @Doc Rock

    Thanks for the advice, though I've always been fully aware of the unreliability of news sources on the Internet — and elsewhere, for that matter.

    Having said that, I must add that Box Office Mojo is as reliable as news sources get. My article, if you read it, covers earnings at the domestic box office on Christmas Day, not over the Christmas Weekend.

    'Avatar' was #2 on Christmas Day. It was #1 for the weekend (Fri.Sun).

  15. joe_6285

    Let's see if this becomes true or not I want Avatar to win the weekend.

  16. joe_6285

    I just found out that Avatar is going to win this weekend let's hope that happens as it turns out that way only.THIS XMAS WEEKEND BIGGEST EVER! 'Avatar' Back On Top For #1 Saturday By Beating 'Sherlock Holmes'; 'Squeakquel' #3.
    Read this article.
    http://www.deadline.com/hollywood/first-look-alvin-2-beats-avatar/

  17. Alex

    I left Piracy at the back for a reason, it is huge but not as game-changing as people make it out. The other factors are a lot more important and you have to agree with me on that one. People still watch movies as much as they did, it's just that they have more ways of doing that now.

    And about your piracy questions. Those numbers are very exact since a tracker (sort of a bridge between servers and people downloading a and uploading stuff like movies, music or games) keeps track of the exact number of people that have downloaded a certain file. When it comes to the quality of the movie they vary depending on how soon they are released. They range from cams to Blue-Ray rips in full 1080p glory. And I'm pretty sure it's impossible to keep track of every single tracker that is offering this stuff so 11 million could very well be 20 million since that site that reported 11 can only keep track of so many torrent trackers.

    So piracy is not something to ignore mate.

  18. altfilmguide

    @Alex

    The lack of other venues for film-watching is mentioned in the article.

    TorrentFreak is the source for the 11 million pirated “Star Trek” downloads. Even if their figures are accurate (they're based on BitTorrent data and I don't know how that data is compiled), one can download “Star Trek” and still watch it on the big screen. Unless, perhaps, you're in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. How good was the pirated version? High-def? Or a crappy recording some idiot did at a movie theater?

    Also, those 11 million downloads weren't all done in the US, and their impact at the US box office is highly debatable regardless of what the MPAA says.

    Here's an interesting article on piracy claims:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gary-shapiro/dear-fcc-please-dont-let_b_355191.html

  19. Domo

    But piracy is on the rise too

  20. Alex

    I'm so but this article is very much flawed by comparing a year like 1947 when to only option to see a movie or anything for that matter was going to a theater.

    Now we have every single movie that comes out in theaters at home in 6 months or less, either on DVD/Blue-Ray, pay per view or stuff like HBO. And did I mention piracy? Star Trek alone is said to have been downloaded from the internet more then 11 million times. That's almost 100 million in ticket sells right there, not to mention that a movie that you download can be seen by 2,3,4 or 10 people. So while the movie was downloaded 11 million times, more then 100 million people might have seen it, all of that without paying anything else but their Internet connection.

    People like and watch movies just as much (if not more) then they did 62 years ago, it's just that today we have a lot more ways to do it.