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'Avatar' is tops at the box office again

The James Cameron epic raises its domestic gross to $429 million over the weekend. The vampire film 'Daybreakers' has a strong debut, while 'Leap Year' and 'Youth in Revolt' open soft.

January 11, 2010|By Ben Fritz
  • Ethan Hawke stars in "Daybreakers," the only one of three new releases to post a strong showing at the box office, with $15 million in sales. "Leap Year" opened soft, while "Youth in Revolt" proved another dud for Weinstein Co.
Ethan Hawke stars in "Daybreakers," the only one of three new… (Ben Rothstein / Associated…)

"Avatar" has become a must-see movie, especially in 3-D.

Coming off a phenomenal holiday period that saw the James Cameron-directed blockbuster sell more than $1 billion worth of tickets worldwide in less than three weeks, "Avatar" experienced the smallest decline of any picture playing nationwide this weekend, signaling that it will run well into the winter.

Among three new movies, Lionsgate's vampire flick "Daybreakers" started well, while Universal Pictures' romantic comedy "Leap Year" opened soft and "Youth in Revolt" was another disappointment for Weinstein Co.

Domestic ticket sales for "Avatar" were $48.5 million from Friday through Sunday, according to an estimate from distributor 20th Century Fox, down just 29% from the previous weekend. That's a relatively small decline at any time and particularly impressive given that Friday was a much slower moviegoing day than the previous Friday, New Year's Day.

International grosses for "Avatar" increased to $143 million this weekend, thanks to a record launch in China. Returns in most major markets were down less than 30%.

Much of that growth seems to be driven by buzz that the picture has to be seen in 3-D, even by those who may have seen it already in 2-D. The percentage of total ticket sales from 3-D screens has grown consistently domestically and abroad. In the U.S. and Canada, more than 80% of theatrical revenue this weekend came from digital 3-D and Imax 3-D screens, up from 71% when the movie opened.

"People are going back a second or third time, and if they saw it in 2-D the first time, now they're going in 3-D," said Bert Livingston, senior vice president of domestic distribution for Fox.

More 3-D tickets means more money for Fox and theaters, as they are typically priced $2 to $3 more than those for standard screens.

Total grosses for "Avatar" have hit $429 million domestically and $906.2 million overseas, or $1.34 billion worldwide. It's now the seventh-biggest movie ever at the domestic box office and the second-biggest overseas and globally, not accounting for ticket price inflation and shifting exchange rates. On all three counts, its only ultimate competition will be Cameron's last picture, "Titanic," which ended up with $600.8 million domestically and $1.24 billion overseas in 1998. Most important for Fox and its financing partners, the movie is proving to be a financial success despite the $430 million they invested in production, marketing and distribution.

In China, where "Avatar" opened Jan. 4, it set a record for the biggest opening week ever, selling $40.2 million of tickets.

Among new movies, the vampire science-fiction picture "Daybreakers" was the only one with a strong opening, debuting at $15 million. That's healthy given its $20-million budget, which was funded by distributor Lionsgate and the Australian government. Ticket sales will probably fall off fast, however, as audiences gave it a weak average grade of C, according to the market research firm CinemaScore.

"Leap Year" had a soft opening of $9.2 million, though there's still room for Universal and partner Relativity Media to come out all right with the film, which they spent $19 million to acquire. Its CinemaScore of B indicates it should play well for several weeks, particularly among women, who made up 79% of its opening-day audience.

The Michael Cera comedy "Youth in Revolt" did nothing to ease the financial woes of Weinstein Co., opening with just $7 million. The problem appeared to be that audiences just didn't like it, giving the picture an average grade of C-plus. "Youth" cost only about $18 million to produce, meaning it shouldn't be a major money loser, but it comes after the already-struggling studio had a major flop in "Nine." The costly musical fell out of the top 10 on its third weekend in wide release as it dropped out of more than 300 theaters and collected just $1.6 million.

The weekend grosses of "Up in the Air," "The Blind Side" and "It's Complicated" all decreased 41% or less this weekend, indicating that they should decline slowly for the rest of the month.

"Sherlock Holmes" and "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel" dropped more than 50%, although both are already in good financial shape after strong performances over the holidays.

In limited release, the Tim Allen comedy "Crazy on the Outside," which the former "Home Improvement" star directed and independently financed, bombed, opening to just $75,450 at 75 theaters.

Fox Searchlight expanded the country music drama "Crazy Heart," for which star Jeff Bridges has earned numerous award nominations, from 12 to 33 theaters and kept up the movie's good performance, collecting $435,000. Its total after nearly four weeks in release is $1.2 million.

ben.fritz@latimes.com

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