North American box office: ‘Avatar’ is unstoppable

Nothing new can even come close to the Cameron juggernaut:

1. Avatar: $34.9 million
2. Legion: $17.5 million (NEW)
3. The Book of Eli: $15.7 million (2nd week; drops 52%)
4. Tooth Fairy: $14 million (NEW)
5. The Lovely Bones: $8.4 million (2nd week in wide release; drops 51%)

actual numbers, not estimates
It didn’t official happen till Monday — that is, not over this past weekend, but that’s what I get for putting this off till now — but Avatar is now officially the moneymakingest movie ever, globally, surpassing Titanic’s $1.843 billion. As of the latest numbers (which would include Tuesday’s takings as well), the Na’vi fantasy is at $1.878 billion worldwide. All the usual caveats apply: ticket prices are higher today than they were in 1997-8, when Titanic was new — and that’s before you add in the premiums that 3D and IMAX screenings command. Adjusted for inflation and taking into account only domestic grosses (which includes Canada), Avatar is only at No. 26, and still has a loooong way to go to overtake Titanic, at No. 11. And though I couldn’t find hard numbers on attendance, the general trend is that attendance is down, if only slightly, from a decade ago, so not as many people will have seen Avatar in theaters as saw Titanic. (Box Office Mojo says that Avatar “likely hasn’t yet cracked the Top 50.”)

Something else was going on, though, this past weekend, with four of the top five films significantly overestimated: Avatar by around a million, Legion and Book of Eli by more than a million, Tooth Fairy and Lovely Bones by around half a million each. Generally that would signal poor word of mouth, but every film? I wonder if it’s rather down to some sort of football variable…

Extraordinary Measures, which debuted way down at No. 8 (which couldn’t have happened to a more deserving film), with takings of a little over $6 million, was also down almost a million from Sunday estimates. In this case, it may indeed have been a matter of bad word of mouth…

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel finally dropped out of the top 5, after its fifth weekend, and after passing $200 million. I think the movie is fine, as fluff goes. But $200 million? People, really

As usual, the best per-screen averages go to indie arthouse releases:

Crazy Heart: $14,551 (on each of 93 screens)
The Last Station: $12,409 (8 screens)
Avatar: $11,125 (at each of 3,141 locations)
The Girl on the Train: $9,577 (2 screens)
Creation: $7,582 (7 screens)

[numbers via Box Office Mojo]

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Wed, Jan 27, 2010 8:26pm

Valid caveats about Titanic versus Avatar when you take into account inflation, number of tix sold, etc. But what’s amazing about Avatar is that we are having these discussions in fewer than six weeks at the theatres. Six weeks! Titanic got its record in 26 weeks or so.

So to Avatar haters, wait another twenty weeks and then see where things stand. Continue the discussion in June.

Wed, Jan 27, 2010 9:57pm

The talk about Avatar being at the top for so long is due to the fact that most movies debut at the top and fade really fast: blockbuster succumbs to follow-up blockbuster, even during the slow months (now until mid-March). We haven’t have a movie open big and stay big since, well, Titanic. Not LotR nor Pirates nor the Star Wars prequels nor Trek reboot. Maybe Dark Knight comes closest. We’d gotten used to the idea of “big-weekend, few-weeks-of-business, wait-four-to-six-months-for-DVD, repeat” for the last 10 years.

It doesn’t hurt that the word-of-mouth on Avatar makes it a polarized film (yeah, the story is so Dances with Smurfs, but daaaaaaaaaaaaaammmmmmnnnnnn you wanna go live on Pandora and make out with blue catgirls and all in the best 3D ever), meaning that people are paying attention to how it does money-wise. It also doesn’t hurt that, at least based on my friends’ conversations, this is a movie you NEED to see in the theaters: they can’t conceive of watching this at home on a small or mid-sized flat-screen. Large-sized wall-mounted with 26 THX speakers all set to shatter your teeth, sure, but who do you know owns that kind of rig? Meaning we’re not about to see this movie slip from the screens just yet… maybe the week before Iron Man 2 comes out.