Weekend Wrap-Up

Christmas Jackpot For Sherlock Holmes, Avatar, and Fox

By John Hamann

December 27, 2009

The boys are informed that Avatar beat them. Holmes is taking it better than Watson.

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That snapping you hear is not fireworks practice for the approaching New Year, it's the sound of holiday box office records shattering, as we have seen the biggest three days in terms of box office, ever. Any concerns that Warner Bros. had that Sherlock Holmes might get buried by Avatar are gone. Any concerns that Fox had about Avatar's opening weekend are gone. And any concerns that the idiotic Alvin and the Chipmunks might not work twice are also gone. All the things analyzed in this column over the last year – scheduling, blockbusters, budgets, just to name a few – are on display this weekend, in what might be the most exciting box office weekend ever. Box office nerds, rejoice!

I completely expected to sit down today and write about the number one film being Sherlock Holmes, but I was absolutely wrong. It was a three-horse race at the box office this weekend, with newcomers Alvin and the Chipmunks (its subtitle will NEVER be mentioned in this column - please don't even think it) and Sherlock Holmes facing off against holdover Avatar. The secondary race this weekend was between the counter-programming options, with the new film It's Complicated, along with expansion flicks Nine and Up in the Air, and the storied Blind Side. The real story is how many people went to the movies this weekend, regardless of what they saw, as theaters were extremely busy from Christmas Day to today.


As we all know by now, Avatar dominated the box office last weekend, pulling in a gross of $77 million, just missing the December record set by Will Smith's I Am Legend in 2007. What was not expected was what happened after the opening weekend, on Monday, when Avatar posted a $16.4 million Monday, off only 34% from the sci-fi flick's Sunday gross. On the surface, it might seem that this was just another big day for the James Cameron film, but it was more than that. It not only meant that this one was going to have legs, it also meant it was playing extremely broadly, selling not only to sci-fi fanboys (and fangirls), but also to families. The much smaller grossing Princess and the Frog dipped 23% from its Sunday take, and Avatar was more akin to The Blind Side's drop of 32%. The Blind Side became the hit that it is because it was able to cross demographics just like Avatar. Could Monday have been a box office blip due to the snowstorm on the East Coast last weekend?

No. On Tuesday, it grossed a remarkably similar $16.1 million, and on Wednesday Avatar took in another $16.4 million. It was the only film that increased its take from Tuesday to Wednesday, except for the expanding Up in the Air. Additionally, it increased its take against a big new release, Alvin and the Chipmunks, which finished at number one on Wednesday with $18.8 million. This showed Avatar's invincibility against new product, and foreshadowed the weekend to come. After it earned $11.3 million on Christmas Eve (usually a very drab day at the box office), Avatar had a running total of $137.3 million, which means it earned approximately $60 million from Monday to Thursday. To put that in perspective, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen earned about $50 million over its first Monday to Thursday. Twilight: New Moon earned about $45 million over that same period of time.

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