Christmas Box Office: Avatar Beats Sherlock and Alvin

  • Share
  • Read Later
20th Century Fox / WETA / Reuters

Actors Sam Worthington, left, and Zoe Saldana as Jake and Neytiri in Avatar

Gold bless us, everyone!

Hollywood gave audiences what they wanted, and moviegoers returned the favor by giving the film industry its favorite present: a record-breaking frame at the box office. According to early studio estimates, North Americans spent some $263 million at theaters this Christmas weekend, obliterating the $254 million mark set in July 2008, when The Dark Knight and Mamma Mia! both opened. And what did the multiplex crowds want on the first days of Christmas? Sing along: foreplay from Meryl, three sassy rodents, two blue Pandorans and a sleuth with a killer right hook.

The mammoth totals are the surest indication of a new Christmas Day ritual: Americans rip open their presents, gulp down the turkey dinner, speed-kiss their relatives goodbye and rush off to the multiplex. Or maybe the whole family goes — the kids to Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel; young males to the action film Sherlock Holmes; older females to see Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin in It's Complicated; and just about everyone sampling James Cameron's enviro-alien epic, Avatar. The record $85 million amassed on Friday accounts for a lot of tickets, even given the $18.50 price that Avatar is getting in some theaters for its 3-D IMAX version. With the annual domestic box office topping $10 billion for the first time, and a solid week of vacation time for kids and adults coming up, business couldn't be more robust for Hollywood. To the rest of the U.S. economy, the moguls say: What recession?

Getting a jump on the Christmas competition, The Squeakquel opened Wednesday, nabbed a quick $18.8 million and knocked the reigning champ, Avatar, out of the No. 1 slot. The Cameron picture came back to the top the next day. Then on Friday Sherlock Holmes, Guy Ritchie's reworking of the Conan Doyle detective as a brainiac with a brawler's fists, hit the theaters and set a $24.8 million Christmas Day record, beating last year's Marley and Me by more than $10 million — and Avatar by about $1 million. On Saturday, Cameron again bounced back to No. 1; his movie will win the weekend comfortably.

The Sunday figures place Avatar's three-day take at $75 million — an increase from the $73 million total announced this time last weekend, but a shade less than the actual $77 million in the final figures released Monday. So things may still change, depending on how many Sunday tickets Avatar sells. When the three-day tally is complete, the movie may have beaten The Dark Knight for the all-time best gross on a second weekend. It has now taken in $212.3 million in the U.S. and Canada, and another $400 million or so abroad. Worldwide, after just 10 days of release, Avatar is already the sixth highest-grossing picture of the year, after Harry Potter 6, Ice Age 3, Transformers 2, 2012 and New Moon. And it's just getting started.

The two runners-up still have bragging rights. Alvin took in more in its first four days than the early December animated feature The Princess and the Frog did in its first 32 days (18 in wide release). The chipmunks should earn back their $70 million budget in a week or two. And Sherlock Holmes handed Ritchie, once known mainly as Mr. Madonna, his first real hit; the director's five previous features have taken in a total of about $40 million at the North American box office. He achieved success both by turning Holmes from a contemplative sort into an action hero, and by filling the role with Robert Downey Jr., who has proved his action-film bona fides as the star of Iron Man. Budgeted at a reasonable $90 million, Sherlock is now a cinch for a sequel. And no question that Alvin will be back for a shriekquel, or a threatquel — anyway, a threequel.

The weekend sent mixed signals to It's Complicated. A romantic comedy about a divorced woman (Streep) who gets chummy with her ex (Baldwin) while entertaining the attentions of another beau (Martin), the movie cost a high-ish $85 million to make; apparently veteran stars are still paid decent salaries, as is a writer-director (Nancy Meyers) with a solid track record (What Women Want, Something's Gotta Give). But a romantic triangle with three stars whose combined age is 175 has trouble appealing to teen daters. To make its money back, It's Complicated will have to lure the Red Hat Society and other women of a certain age. They go to movies, all right, but not necessarily on Christmas weekend — somebody has to cook the meals and do the dishes. A healthy A- CinemaScore from exiting moviegoers suggests that Streep & Co., still have a shot.

So the weekend box-office results were like the prizes a school gives to all sports competitors: everyone's a winner! The one exception was Nine, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as a film director at a crisis in his life and career, and five Oscar-laden actresses dressing up this musical version of Federico Fellini's . The picture earned $5.5 million in 1,412 theaters — a slow start for a film meant to give the ailing Weinstein Company a life-saving box-office boost. Movies about movies are rarely big hits (audiences want to eat the sausage, not see how it's made); a downer musical about a pampered, well-paid man experiencing a failure of imagination is an even tougher sell. The movie will get a boost from exposure on the Jan. 17 Golden Globes show, where it is nominated for five awards. But on Christmas, Nine was the one orphan. It got coal, not gold.

Here are the totals for the weekend's top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo:

1. Avatar, $75 million; $212.3 million, second week
2. Sherlock Holmes, $65.4 million, first weekend
3. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, $50.2 million; $77.1 million, first five days
4. It's Complicated, $22.1 million, first weekend
5. Up in the Air, $11.8 million; $24.5 million, fourth week
6. The Blind Side, $11.7 million; $184.4 million, sixth week
7. The Princess and the Frog, $8.7 million; $63.4 million, fifth week
8. Nine, $5.5 million; $5.9 million, second week
9. Did You Hear About the Morgans?, $5 million; $15.6 million, second week
10. Invictus, $4.4 million; $23.4 million, third week