‘Avatar’: James Cameron 3D fantasy adventure has best non-weekend Christmas Eve ever
Dec. 24 update: James Cameron’s futuristic fantasy adventure Avatar – a sort of War of the Worlds in reverse, with human beings as the nasty aliens – grossed an estimated $11.3 million (updated actual gross: $11.15 million) on Dec. 24, its seventh day out.
As found at boxofficemojo.com, Avatar had the best non-weekend (Mon.–Thu.) Christmas Eve earnings ever (not adjusted for inflation). In terms of overall single-day grosses, Avatar‘s Christmas Eve take landed it in the no. 39 slot.
The overall Thursday record holder remains George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, which had its Day 1 on a Thursday in May 2005.
As for Thursdays in December, six movies hold higher rankings than Avatar:
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King: twice – no. 12/no. 20.
- The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: twice – no. 15/no. 21.
- Marley and Me: no. 18.
- Meet the Fockers: twice – no. 28/no. 31.
- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: no. 32.
- Night at the Museum: no. 38.
Thursdays with ‘Titanic’
Thanks to inflationary pressures, James Cameron’s other box office phenomenon, Titanic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, can be found down at no. 37 on the Thursday chart. Back on Jan. 1 ’98 (Day 14), the romantic disaster melodrama (or disastrous romantic melodrama, depending on your take) scored $11.5 million.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, which beat Avatar when it opened on Wed., is now way behind on the Thursday chart: no. 74, with $8 million.
Guy Ritchie’s much-ballyhooed Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, and Rachel McAdams opens tomorrow. That will be Avatar‘s chief competitor for moviegoers’ dollars, though Cameron’s film is the one expected to come out on top over the Christmas weekend.
Update: Avatar did come out on top while breaking a few more box office records.
‘Avatar’ beats (lowered) expectations – but still below initial weekend estimates
Dec. 21 update: Thanks to better than expected Sunday business, James Cameron’s Avatar grossed $77.02 million domestically on its opening weekend, Dec. 18–20.
On Friday and early Saturday, estimates ranged from $80–$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 international markets where it’s currently playing. Distributor 20th Century Fox had estimated a $159.2 million gross, but the futuristic action-adventure fantasy ended up taking in $165.5 million.
As per The Hollywood Reporter, the markets that brought in more than $10 million over the weekend (in some countries extending into last Wednesday/Thursday) were the following:
- Russia: $21 million.
- France: $19 million.
- The U.K.: $14.2 million.
- Germany: $13.2 million.
- Australia: $11.3 million.
- Spain: $11 million.
- South Korea: $10.8 million.
Top 3D performer ever – but not top December debut ever
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.
In the U.S. and Canada, Avatar is now officially the top 3D movie of all time – which isn’t really saying much since most 3D films haven’t done all that well and there haven’t been all that many to begin with.
Also, Avatar fell a notch below the official (not adjusted for inflation) December record, which has been retained by the Will Smith star vehicle I Am Legend. Bear in mind that Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, released in late 2003, would be the actual record-holder if inflation is taken into account.
Best ‘original’ debut?
But all is not lost: Avatar has enjoyed the biggest domestic opening ever for a non-sequel or a movie not based on a book, play, toy, video game, comic strip, another movie, TV series, TV commercial, magazine article, advertising billboard, restaurant menu, or fortune-cookie prediction.
And there goes 99.9 percent of the competition of the last 20 years.
To date, the best opening weekend at the U.S. and Canada box office (not adjusted for inflation) belongs to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, starring Christian Bale as Batman and the then recently deceased Heath Ledger as The Joker. The sequel to Batman Begins earned $158 million in July 2008.
Worldwide, the current record-holder is David Yates’ Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The latest installment in the Harry Potter franchise grossed $394 million last July. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson star.
How profitable will ‘Avatar’ be?
Avatar‘s production costs, initially estimated at somewhere between $200 and $500 million, are now being reported within the $250–$350 million range. That doesn’t include advertising, prints, and related distribution expenses.
As a rule of thumb, the producing and/or distributing studio receives 50–55 percent of a film’s domestic box office gross and about 40 percent of the international take. Percentages, however, can vary dramatically depending on a variety of contractual factors.
Anyhow, Avatar will earn 20th Century Fox a profit only if its blue Pandorans turn out to have legs as strong as they’re long. In case that happens, Fox won’t have to sell what’s left of its backlot and Los Angeles’ Westside won’t be getting a new suburb.
Remember, the Beverly Hills-adjacent Century City was born in large part as a result of the studio’s Cleopatra debacle back in the early 1960s.
In the 22nd century-set Avatar, Sam Worthington plays a former U.S. marine who is sent to win over the trust of a native humanoid population – the Na’vi – on a distant planet – Pandora – that is filled with minerals invaluable to human entrepreneurs.
Avatar is James Cameron’s first narrative feature since Titanic. Besides Sam Worthington, the cast includes the following:
Three-time Academy Award nominee Sigourney Weaver (as Best Actress for Aliens, 1986, and Gorillas in the Mist, 1988; as Best Supporting Actress for Working Girl, 1988).
Zoe Saldana. Stephen Lang. Giovanni Ribisi. CCH Pounder. Wes Studi. Dileep Rao.
Joel David Moore. Matt Gerald. Laz Alonso. Michelle Rodriguez. Sean Patrick Murphy. Sean Anthony Moran.
Hugh Grant & Sarah Jessica Parker comedy bombs
James Cameron’s Avatar was easily the big winner this past weekend (reminder: Dec. 18–20). But what about the other releases on the Top Five box office chart?
For starters, Marc Lawrence’s Did You Hear About the Morgans?, the weekend’s other wide release, debuted in fourth place with a measly $6.61 million from 2,718 sites. Extreme Measures stars Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker were reunited for this bomb-in-the-making.
Also in the Did You Hear About the Morgans? cast:
Sam Elliott. Elisabeth Moss. Wilford Brimley. David Call. Michael Kelly.
Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Mary Steenburgen (Melvin and Howard, 1980).
Trailing Avatar at no. 2, Disney’s The Princess and the Frog brought in $12.18 million, lifting its cume to $44.71 million. Next in line was the Sandra Bullock sleeper blockbuster The Blind Side with $10.02 million, for a domestic total of $164.72 million.
Rounding out the Top Five, Chris Weitz’s fantasy The Twilight Saga: New Moon scored $4.4 million for a cume of $274.59 million after five weeks. Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, and Taylor Lautner star.
Platform/limited releases: ‘Up in the Air’ & ‘Nine’ shine
Among limited/platform releases, Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air can now be found among the Top Ten – at no. 8, to be exact – after expanding to 175 venues. Reitman’s socially conscious comedy-drama pulled in $3.21 million for an early cume of $8.21 million.
Up in the Air has surely been helped by its numerous accolades from U.S. film critics. Besides, it’s up for several Golden Globes and SAG Awards. George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, and Jason Bateman star.
Another early success story is Rob Marshall’s Nine, which, despite mixed reviews, did solid business domestically on its debut weekend. Based on the stage hit inspired by Federico Fellini’s 1963 Oscar-winning classic 8½, the $80 million musical grossed $257,232 at four locations, or a remarkable $64,308 average. Nine stars the following:
Best Actress Oscar winner Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose, 2007).
Best Actress Oscar winner Sophia Loren (Two Women, 1961).
Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love, 1998).
Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Kate Hudson (Almost Famous, 2000).
Former The Black Eyed Peas member Fergie.
‘The Lovely Bones’ & ‘Me and Orson Welles’ in trouble
Like Nine, Peter Jackson’s eagerly awaited The Lovely Bones also opened glowingly about ten days ago. The bad news: this past weekend it plummeted an alarming 61 percent, collecting $45,097 at three theaters for a barely passable $15,032 average. Total to date: $200,687. The $65 million supernatural crime drama seems to be headed for trouble. In the prestigious The Lovely Bones cast:
Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, 2007).
Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener, 2005).
Best Actress Oscar winner Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking, 1995).
Potential 2010 Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci.
Also in trouble is Richard Linklater’s $25 million-budget Me and Orson Welles, currently at 134 locations. Despite good reviews and the Zac Efron brand, the period drama has raked in a paltry $549,973 after four weekends out. Also in the cast: Claire Danes and (some) critics groups’ fave Christian McKay as the Citizen Kane and The Lady from Shanghai actor/filmmaker.
‘A Single Man’ & ‘Broken Embraces’
Also in limited release, Tom Ford’s $7 million psychological drama A Single Man, currently at nine theaters, has earned a total of $475,198 after two weekends out.
Based on a 1960s Christopher Isherwood novel, A Single Man stars 2009 Venice Film Festival Best Actor winner Colin Firth as a Los Angeles-based gay professor contemplating suicide following the unexpected death of his partner (Matthew Goode). Julianne Moore and Nicholas Hoult co-star.
And finally, Pedro Almodóvar’s noirish Broken Embraces, currently at 30 venues, has earned $840,949 after five weekends out. Nine performer Penélope Cruz stars as an actress-escort romantically involved with her director (Lluís Homar) while at odds with her “sponsor” (José Luis Gómez).
Sam Worthington and Stephen Lang Avatar images: 20th Century Fox.
Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant in Did You Hear About the Morgans? image: Barry Wetcher / Columbia Pictures.
“Avatar: James Cameron Fantasy Is Global Blockbuster But December Record Goes Unbroken” last updated in July 2018.