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Box Office Records: Manufactured or Real? + the Avatar Billion & the Nine Bomb

Avatar Zoe Saldana: Box office records shattered as Na'Vi pass $1 billion mark
Avatar: Zoe Saldana wears Na’vi blue digital make-up in global blockbuster that has passed the $1 billion milestone worldwide. James Cameron’s mix of fantasy, adventure, and environmental conscience has already shattered several box office records – among them “fastest to $1 billion worldwide” – with more sure to come. Besides Zoe Saldana, Avatar also features Sam Worthington and three-time Academy Award nominee Sigourney Weaver.

Box office records broken as ‘Avatar’ passes $1 billion milestone worldwide

Jan. 4 update: Avatar – James Cameron’s 3D mix of fantasy, science-fiction, action/adventure, and social/environmental concerns – shattered box office records as it passed the $1 billion milestone worldwide on the first weekend of 2010 (Jan. 1–3).

After only 17 days, Avatar‘s domestic box office stands at $352.1 million; its international total has reached an estimated $670.2 million. Worldwide total: $1.022 billion.

Avatar‘s current worldwide gross, not adjusted for inflation or currency fluctuations, is behind those of only three movies:

As found at, in the U.S. and Canada Avatar pulled in an estimated $68.3 million over the weekend – 75 percent of which at higher-priced 3D theaters – scoring a remarkable $19,724 average at 3,461 venues. Overseas, Avatar added an estimated $133 million.

James Cameron’s inner box office records battle: ‘Avatar’ vs. ‘Titanic’

Eventually, Avatar should overtake Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight to become the second biggest domestic grosser ever, but it’ll still trail Titanic.

According to Box Office Mojo, in its first 17 days in the U.S. and Canada Titanic earned $241 million adjusted for inflation – but without box-office-inflating 3D surcharges.

Bear in mind that this (very) late 1997 release was initially screened in fewer theaters than Avatar – 2,727 on weekend no. 3 vs. Avatar‘s 3,461 locations – and kept picking up steam as the weeks went by.

Na’vi leading dinosaurs, following ‘Christ’

Jan. 5 update: Avatar, which earlier today received a 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, with $360.2 million it is now “officially” 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’ budget: Wild speculation

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Avatar is “reportedly the most expensive film ever made, with a budget of at least $300 million.”

In case the Reporter is accurate, that “minimal” budget is about $80 million above what 20th Century Fox claims the Pandora-set fantasy cost to produce.

Reported production costs for Avatar have ranged from $200–$220 million (as per 20th Century Fox) to more than $500 million. That’s not including addition to prints, advertising, and distribution expenses, which initially added another $100–150 million to the film’s final cost.

‘Avatar’ cast

James Cameron’s first narrative feature since Titanic, Avatar includes the following in its cast:

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

Three-time Oscar nominee Sigourney Weaver (as Best Actress for Aliens, 1986, and Gorillas in the Mist, 1988; as Best Supporting Actress 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 brought in 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 its nominal leading lady, Sherlock Holmes – bombastically made to please 12-year-olds everywhere – managed a solid $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. The sequel should be able to squeak by its predecessor (bad pun intended).

It's Complicated Meryl Streep Steve Martin Hunter Parrish: 1 of Her biggest hits ever?
It’s Complicated with Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, Hunter Parrish, Zoe Kazan, and Caitlin FitzGerald. Nancy Meyers’ adult-oriented ensemble comedy likely to hit the $100 million mark in the domestic market. No box office records will be broken when that happens, but Meryl Streep will have one of her biggest hits ever – and, following Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia, her second 2009 commercial success directed by a woman.

‘It’s Complicated’ to become one of Meryl Streep’s biggest hits ever?

At no. 4, Nancy Meyers’ – rarity of rarities – adult-oriented 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 (as Best Supporting Actress for Kramer vs. Kramer, 1979; as Best Actress for Sophie’s Choice, 1982).

Best Supporting Actor nominee Alec Baldwin (The Cooler, 2003).

Steve Martin. 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.

Even though it won’t be breaking any box office records, It’s Complicated will most likely pass the $100 million mark on the domestic chart. Nancy Meyers’ comedy will thus become one of Meryl Streep’s top three star vehicles ever – well, if one doesn’t take inflation into account – behind only Phyllida Lloyd’s Mamma Mia! ($144.13 million, 2008) and David Frankel’s The Devil Wears Prada ($124.74 million, 2006).

When adjusting for inflation, which is the accurate and honest way of comparing box office grosses from different years/decades, Streep’s most popular star vehicle in the domestic market easily remains Sydney Pollack’s 1985 Best Picture Oscar winner Out of Africa ($87 million at the time; approximately $176 million today), co-starring Robert Redford.

Along the same inflation-adjusted lines, the most (domestically) popular film in which Meryl Streep has been featured would then be Robert Benton’s 1979 Best Picture Oscar winner Kramer vs. Kramer, a Dustin Hoffman star vehicle that took in $106.26 million at the time, or the equivalent of $322 million today.

The Blind Side Sandra Bullock Tim McGraw: Breaking personal box office records
The Blind Side with Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw. John Lee Hancock’s sentimental socially conscious drama also featuring Quinton Aaron has crossed the $200 million mark in the U.S. and Canada after seven weeks, which makes The Blind Side not only the box office sleeper of the year but also, breaking “personal” box office records, Sandra Bullock’s biggest domestic hit to date (not adjusted for inflation).

Sandra Bullock reaches $200 million: ‘The Blind Side’ breaking ‘personal’ box office records

Trailing It’s Complicated this past weekend 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 after 43 days (on Friday, Jan. 1, it reached $201.1 million).

The Blind Side has yet to open internationally, but on the domestic front it has already broken box office records as far as Sandra Bullock is concerned: not adjusting for inflation, the “inspirational” family drama – a major draw in American small towns and in “conservative” suburban areas – has become Bullock’s biggest box office hit ever.

Adjusted for inflation, Jan de Bont’s 1994 action thriller Speed, in which Bullock got paired up with Keanu Reeves, remains her biggest domestic blockbuster: $121.24 million at the time of its release, or approx. $217 million today.

Keep your eyes open, as the fast-moving The Blind Side will surely be surpassing the inflation-adjusted Speed within the next few days.

Besides Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side features the following:

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

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

George Clooney & Hugh Grant leaping around ‘Frog’

Starring 2009 U.S. critics’ fave George Clooney, Up in the Air was the no. 6 movie on the box office chart this past weekend, 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’ animated feature 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 comedy 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 Daniel Day-Lewis Marion Cotillard: Awards season box office records not broken
Nine with Daniel Day-Lewis and Marion Cotillard. Rob Marshall’s costly all-star Weinstein Company release won’t be breaking any box office records this awards season despite a number of mentions and nominations. Starring Raul Julia, the original 1982 Broadway musical inspired by Federico Fellini’s 1963 film classic ran for 729 performances, going on to win five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Also in the original Broadway cast: Tony winner Liliane Montevecchi, Karen Akers, Anita Morris, Shelly Burch, Camille Saviola, Kathi Moss, and Taina Elg.

At no. 9 this past weekend, ‘Nine’ not breaking any box office records

One of the great awards season – dashed – hopes, Rob Marshall’s star-studded musical Nine won’t be shattering any box office records. After earning only $4.3 million in, whether ironically or cosmically, ninth place this past weekend, its cume to date is a paltry $14 million.

Less-than-enthusiastic reviews certainly haven’t helped 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 the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Comedy or Musical (not all that likely), or if it receives multiple Oscar nominations (a possibility), box office returns may get a – however moderate – boost in early 2010.

In the prestigious Nine cast:

Two-time Best Actor Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis (My Left Foot, 1989; There Will Be Blood, 2007).

Best Actress Oscar winner Nicole Kidman (The Hours, 2002).

Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Penélope Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, 2008).

Best Actress Oscar winner Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose, 2007).

Best Actress Oscar winner Sophia Loren (Two Women / La Ciociara, 1961).

Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love, 1998).

Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Kate Hudson (Almost Famous, 2000).

Best Female Pop Vocal Performance Grammy nominee Fergie (“Big Girls Don’t Cry,” 2008).

Berlin Film Festival Best Director Silver Bear winner Ricky Tognazzi (Ultrà, 1991; tied with Jonathan Demme for The Silence of the Lambs).

Best Actor David di Donatello winner Elio Germano (My Brother Is an Only Child / Mio fratello è figlio unico, 2007).

‘Invictus’ a box office loser while ‘New Moon’ dimmer at no. 11

Starring Morgan Freeman (as Nelson Mandela) and Matt Damon, Clint Eastwood’s commercial disappointment rugby movie Invictus scored only $4.1 million at no. 10. Total to date: an unimpressive $30.7 million.

And finally gone from the Top Ten is Chris Weitz’s The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Even so, the Robert Pattinson-Kristen Stewart-Taylor Lautner vampire-human-werewolf triangle pulled in another $3.6 million at no. 11, reaching a fantastic $287.7 million domestic total. Yet the $300 million milestone does seem to be out of reach.

New Moon was followed by Jim Sheridan’s Brothers, revolving around 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: Literally going Na'Vi native in ayram alusing Pandora
Avatar with Zoe Saldana as a Na’vi native and Sam Worthington as an earthling who – quite literally – goes native in the 3D-enhanced world of Pandora, filled with huge blue humanoid creatures, exotic beasts (e.g., Stephen Lang, Giovanni Ribisi, and fellow aliens), and Ayram Alusing (a.k.a. Hallelujah Mountains a.k.a. Floating Mountains). Meanwhile, more box office records are being broken on Planet Earth.

More box office records broken as ‘Avatar’ beats ‘Spider-Man’

Jan. 3 update: According to figures found in The Hollywood Reporter, James Cameron’s Avatar has earned $68.3 million on its third weekend (or rather, is earning – the weekend isn’t over), 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 2009–2010).

Correction: A previous version of this post stated that Avatar‘s opening weekend surpassed that of the Will Smith adventure I Am Legend, “thus officially earning the title of top December domestic debut ever.” That is incorrect. Having the top December opening ever is not one of Avatar‘s box office records for this reason: Avatar took in $77.02 million while I Am Legend took in $77.21 million.

‘Titanic’ vs. ‘Avatar’: Comparing icebergs & Ayram Alusing

Inevitably, many have been comparing Avatar‘s box office grosses to those of James Cameron’s previous worldwide blockbuster, the late December 1997 release Titanic. For the most part, such comparisons are – at best – misguided.

To begin with, ticket prices are on average much higher today – $7.46 in 2009 vs. $4.59 in 1998. In addition, 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.

There’s more: back in 1998 Titanic was screened at fewer theaters than Avatar – 2,727 on its third weekend vs. Avatar‘s 3,461 venues – 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 Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana’s 3D Na’vi revolt.

“Box Office Records: Manufactured or Real? + The ‘Avatar’ Billion & ‘Harry Potter’ No. 1 Worldwide” follow-up post: “Box Office: 1947 Is Banner Domestic Year & 2009 Sets International Record.”

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 Day-Lewis and Marion Cotillard Nine image: The Weinstein Company.

“Box Office Records: Manufactured or Real? + the Avatar Billion & the Nine Bomb” last updated in March 2018.

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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 :)

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…

sai krishna -

excellent movie of 2009-10

jc -

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

Tech -

Avatar is a far better movie than Sherlock Holmes.

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.

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.

Ker -

Glad nine bombed. It sucked.


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