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'Avatar' is expected to have a huge opening weekend

COMPANY TOWN

James Cameron's $310-million sci-fi spectacle could gross $230 million worldwide by Sunday, sources say.

December 18, 2009|By Ben Fritz
  • Zoe Saldana as AVTR-228 and Sam Worthington as Jake star in "Avatar," which is set on a moon called Pandora in the year 2154. The film opens today.
Zoe Saldana as AVTR-228 and Sam Worthington as Jake star in "Avatar,"… (20th Century Fox )

One of the most expensive movies of all time is poised for a huge box office debut this weekend, though nowhere close to breaking records.

"Avatar" will probably gross about $80 million from Friday through Sunday in the U.S. and Canada, according to several people who have seen pre-release public surveys. With momentum from positive reviews, however, the people said the movie's ticket sales could end up even higher.

People close to the studio said Fox executives are concerned about managing expectations for their costly picture going into the weekend. Fox's domestic distribution president, Bruce Snyder, predicted that "Avatar" would have an opening-weekend gross of $50 million to $60 million.

Overseas, where the James Cameron-directed 3-D spectacle is opening this week in 106 countries, including every major market except Italy, Japan and China, it will probably sell more than $100 million worth of tickets and could easily collect about $150 million.

That would put "Avatar" among the 20 biggest worldwide launches ever, although well behind such hugely successful pictures as "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," "Spider-Man 3" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End," all of which debuted with more than $300 million.

20th Century Fox and its financing partners Dune Entertainment and Ingenious Film Partners will need "Avatar" to be one of the most successful movies ever for their massive investment to turn a profit. The three companies spent about $310 million to produce the movie, a total brought down to $280 million after tax credits from New Zealand, where its special effects were done by Peter Jackson's Weta Digital. In addition, Fox has invested about $150 million to market and distribute the movie worldwide.

Pre-release surveys indicate that overall awareness of "Avatar" this week is massive, a sign that Fox's marketing and publicity campaign has been a success. Among those aware of the film, men are overwhelmingly interested in it, particularly those 30 and older. Females aren't as enthusiastic, however, especially teenage girls. The opening-weekend audience will probably be heavily tilted toward males. The big question for Fox is whether women will show up in subsequent weeks.

"Avatar" will benefit from surcharges at theaters with digital 3-D projection. About 60% of its theaters in the U.S. and Canada are showing the movie in 3-D and about 30% internationally. Because Cameron shot "Avatar" using new 3-D technology, which has been a heavy focus of the movie's publicity and advertising, the vast majority of its grosses are expected to come from screens that can display it.

Forty-four percent of advance ticket purchases at online ticket seller Fandango are for Imax screens, while 43% are for standard-size 3-D and just 13% are for 2-D. At competitor MovieTickets.com, 55% are for Imax 3-D, 31% are for regular 3-D, and 14% are for 2-D.

ben.fritz@latimes.com

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