Another Avatar Weekend: Pandorans Defeat Vampires

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20th Century Fox / WETA / Reuters

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

In the battle of Avatar vs. the rest of the universe, the James Cameron extravaganza again emerged dominant. At the North American box office, according to early studio estimates, the picture earned $48.5 million, or more than the combined take of the next three movies: the Victorian action-adventure Sherlock Holmes, the singing-rodents comedy Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel and the vampire drama Daybreakers, the weekend's one new release to crack the top four.

Avatar has now beaten, crushed, spindled and mutilated the competition for four weekends in a row, the first movie to do so since The Dark Knight in the summer of 2008. This week it will also become the first Hollywood feature film to top $100 million worldwide in specialized IMAX theaters — which charge more per ticket, as do the 3-D showings in regular theaters, and help boost Avatar's overall numbers. Out for just 24 days, the movie has earned an astounding $429 million on domestic screens, which means it dethroned Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen as the top-grossing release of 2009. Fans of movies with a vision, as opposed to machine-made blockbusters, can only say, Thank you, Avatar.

Cameron's colossal creation was not the only holiday hit with long legs. This weekend, two films in their third week kept luring moviegoers at a healthy pace. Sherlock Holmes took in $16.6 million, for a $165.2 million total, and Alvin squirreled away $16.3 million, for a cumulative $178.2 million. The holdovers had such an edge over newcomers that Hollywood should consider establishing a tier system, like in the English football leagues, with the big Christmastime films at the Premier level and the January releases competing among themselves in a lower group.

On that B list, the weekend's winner was Daybreakers, a vampire thriller that dared to make the creatures icky and predatory, not sweet and sexy in the Twilight fashion. A three-day total of $15 million doesn't seem like a bundle, in Avatar terms, but when you consider that the film was made in Australia back in 2007 for just $20 million, the Daybreakers gross was, if not a box-office banquet, at least a decent bite.

The other two new movies in wide release were both romantic comedies. Youth in Revolt, approximately the 67th film in which Michael Cera tries to lose his virginity, amassed $7 million on 1,873 screens — not bad at all. It managed a higher per-screen average than Leap Year, the widely reviled rom-com that sends Amy Adams to Ireland to find true love and get very wet and muddy. Leap Year took in $9.2 million. The direct competition for Adams, who played Julie in Julie & Julia, was in another romantic comedy about a woman who must choose between her old beau and a newcomer: It's Complicated, starring Meryl Streep (Julia in Julie & Julia). That one grossed $11 million in its third weekend.

In Hollywood, winners and losers are relative: the money earned at the box office must be matched against money spent on production. It's Complicated had a hefty $85 million budget; Leap Year cost just $19 million to make; Youth in Revolt, $18 million. All three will have to scramble to break even. In the bang-for-a-buck category, the phenomenon remains The Blind Side, the sports-inspirational drama starring Sandra Bullock. Still in the top seven after eight weeks of release, the movie has now earned $219.2 million on a $29 million budget. It's now the all-time top grosser in the based-on-a-true-story genre (unless you count The Passion of the Christ). At the moment it trails only E.T., the first Narnia saga, New Moon, Twister and My Big Fat Greek Wedding among movies with a woman as the top-billed performer — and Bullock is the only lead actress in those films with real star power. So by any standard, The Blind Side is a wow.

Any standard, that is, but Avatar's. Records have fallen, and will continue to topple. Currently seventh on the all-time list of domestic moneymakers, Avatar should pass Star Wars: Phantom Menace ($431.1 million), E.T. ($435.1 million) and Shrek 2 ($441.1 million) in a few days, and by next weekend it will overtake the original Star Wars ($461 million) for third place. That leaves only The Dark Knight ($533.3 million) and the all-time champ, Cameron's own Titanic ($600.7 million). In worldwide gross, Avatar is just as impressive: it made another $300 million or so this past week for a total of $1.3 billion. That vaulted it past three of the four other billion-dollar movies: The Dark Knight, the second episode of Pirates of the Caribbean and the conclusion to the Lord of the Rings trilogy are now in Avatar's dust. Again, only Titanic, at $1.8 billion, remains in its way.

Titanic made Cameron king of the world. With Avatar showing no signs of box-office fatigue, he is now lord of the galaxy; only the cosmos remains.

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

1. Avatar, $48.5 million; $429 million, fourth week
2. Sherlock Holmes, $16.6 million; $165.2 million, third week
3. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, $16.3 million; $178.2 million, third week
4. Daybreakers, $15 million, first weekend
5. It's Complicated, $11 million; $76.4 million, third week
6. Leap Year, $9.2 million, first weekend
7. The Blind Side, $7.8 million; $219.2 million, eighth week
8. Up in the Air, $7.1 million; $54.7 million, sixth week
9. Youth in Revolt, $7 million, first weekend
10. The Princess and the Frog, $4.7 million; $92.6 million, seventh week