‘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.
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 Supporting Actress Oscar winner Penélope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, 2008).
Best Actress Oscar winner Sophia Loren (Two Women, 1961).
Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love, 1998).
Best Actress Oscar winner Nicole Kidman (The Hours, 2002).
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 Actor Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg (The Departed, 2006).
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).
‘Everybody’s Fine’ is anything but
Dec. 7 update: John Lee Hancock’s The Blind Side and Chris Weitz’s The Twilight Saga: New Moon were the two top movies at the domestic box office this past weekend, Dec. 4–6, 2009 – with the sentimental Sandra Bullock star vehicle finally surpassing the Kristen Stewart-Robert Pattinson-Taylor Lautner interspecies love triangle. At the other end of the scale, Kirk Jones’ Everybody’s Fine was a major disappointment.
Directed by Kirk Jones and starring two-time Oscar winner Robert De Niro (Best Supporting Actor for The Godfather: Part II, 1974; Best Actor for Raging Bull, 1980), Everybody’s Fine raked in a mere $3.85 million – or $1,806 per screen at no. 10 on the domestic chart.
Everybody’s Fine is a remake of Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1990 melodrama, with Robert De Niro in the old Marcello Mastroianni role: a widower who travels cross-country to meet with his children. Drew Barrymore, Melissa Leo, and Kate Beckinsale co-star.
Also worth noting, at no. 21 David and Scott Hillenbrand’s Transylmania, in which a group of college students drink, party, and get murdered with equal ease, was a total disaster, grossing $264,000 – or a horrendous $262 per screen.
George Clooney star vehicle ‘Up in the Air’ performing strongly
Among the newcomers and “expanders,” as found at Box Office Mojo the weekend’s one real success story was Up in the Air, which pulled in $1.18 million at no. 13, or more than $78,763 per site at 15 theaters.
Jason Reitman’s socially conscious comedy-drama stars George Clooney as a frequent-flying corporate downsizer who falls in love with fellow frequent-flyer Vera Farmiga right when he’s about to get grounded. New Moon actress likely Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Anna Kendrick co-stars.
Both Clooney and Up in the Air have already been chosen as Best of 2009 by the National Board of Review (Clooney tied in the Best Actor category with Morgan Freeman for Invictus) and the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association.
George Clooney voice vehicle ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ disappoints
Nov. 30 update: Entering the Top Ten this weekend, Nov. 27–29, was Wes Anderson’s generally well-received stop-motion feature Fantastic Mr. Fox, which earned a weak $6.96 million. Total to date: $10.1 million.
Based on a Roald Dahl novel, Fantastic Mr. Fox opened strongly at four locations two weekends ago, collecting $199,142. But it doesn’t seem at all likely that Anderson’s effort will be able to recover its reported $40 million budget at the domestic box office.
International prospects are unclear, though Fantastic Mr. Fox is performing quite strongly in the U.K., where it opened with $2.47 million in late October.
‘The Road’ performs modestly & ‘Planet 51’ bombs
Also opening in limited release this weekend was John Hillcoat’s The Road, starring Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron as two of the inhabitants of a post-apocalyptic Earth. The modest performer finished in tenth place, with a weekend gross of $1.5 million at 111 venues.
The Sony Pictures-distributed, $70 million-budget commercial flop Planet 51, on its second weekend out, collected $10.21 million at 3,035 locations. Total to date: $28.48 million.
Directed by Jorge Blanco, Javier Abad, and Marcos Martínez, the animated adventure follows an astronaut who ends up getting trapped on a distant planet. The English-language voice cast of this Spanish/British/U.S. co-production includes Dwayne Johnson, Jessica Biel, Justin Long, Gary Oldman, Seann William Scott, and John Cleese.
Planet 51 will likely have better luck at the international box office. In Spain, it opened with a not inconsiderable $4.34 million over the weekend.
‘2012’ tops late 2009 box office
Nov. 16 update: A Sony Pictures release, Roland Emmerich’s apocalyptic actioner 2012 topped the U.S. and Canada box office this weekend, Nov. 13–15, with a solid $65.23 million from 3,404 locations.
As found at Box Office Mojo, 2012 scored $19,165 per theater, while easily surpassing the $35.8 million opening gross of Emmerich’s previous film, 10,000 B.C.
The weekend’s other wide release, Pirate Radio a.k.a. The Boat That Rocked landed at no. 11, with a measly $2.9 million from 882 locations. Directed by Richard Curtis, the comedy follows a group of DJs broadcasting rock ‘n’ roll songs from a boat in the North Sea.
In the Pirate Radio cast:
Multiple Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh (e.g., Best Actor & Best Director nominee for Henry V, 1989).
Best Actor Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote, 2005).
Tom Sturridge. Bill Nighy. Rhys Ifans. January Jones. Chris O’Dowd.
And finally, Precious was a major surprise at no. 4, collecting an impressive $6 million at only 174 locations. In the cast of Lee Daniels’ dysfunctional family drama: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, and Mariah Carey.
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 Leaves December Record Unbroken + Year’s Feel-Good Cataclysm Movie” last updated in October 2019.