Weekend Wrap-Up

Avatar Starts 2010 With $300 Million

By John Hamann

January 3, 2010

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The holiday season box office bonanza ended with a bang, as no new openers meant a clear playing field for our crop of incredible films from last weekend, when overall box office set a record for the busiest weekend ever in the modern era of film. Last weekend, we had two tiers of earners: Avatar, Sherlock Holmes and the Alvin and the Chipmunks sequel in one tier, and It's Complicated, The Blind Side and Up in the Air in the other. This weekend, things are similar in most ways, but different due to the fact that two films in different tiers are pulling away from their packs. We also now know that the Weinstein's Nine is in its death throes, and at this point can only be saved by running the table at the Golden Globes.

On Friday, Avatar's 15th day of release, the James Cameron film crossed the $300 million mark, becoming the third fastest film ever to earn that much money that quickly. This is an amazing achievement, considering it took the fourth fastest film, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, two days longer to reach the same mark, despite opening larger by $31 million. BOP's Tim Briody reported yesterday that Avatar grossed $24 million on Friday night, which was enough to take it to $307.8 million after only 15 days of release, which means at that point, Avatar was averaging over $20 million per day since opening, which is a truly amazing statistic. With Sunday being the end of holiday season box office bonanza, we knew things weren't going to hold up like they did last weekend, as Sunday was a back-to-school, back-to-work sort of day. The James Cameron epic earned $68.3 million for the weekend, and scores a drop of only 10% compared to its Christmas weekend frame. Considering the size of the grosses involved, this is an exceptional hold, something never seen. The last time Christmas and New Year's Days fell on a Friday, it was 1999, and the average drop for non-expanding films was 24%, so Avatar beat that average, despite the top film in 1999 earning only $19.1 million, or about $40 million less than Avatar.


Avatar also took down some new records this weekend. Its gross of $68.3 million easily became the biggest weekend ever for the month of January, besting Cloverfield's opening weekend take of $40 million in 2008. Avatar also had the biggest third weekend ever, easily beating Spider-Man and The Dark Knight, which earned $45 million and $42 million in their third weekends respectively. It will also set the record next weekend for fourth biggest weekend, unless something truly bizarre happens. Avatar also entered the realm of the 20 biggest domestic hits ever this weekend, coming in now at number 14, in between Jurassic Park and The Passion of the Christ. Avatar will be in the top ten biggest films ever by the time next Friday's grosses are counted.

I'm starting to see more and more comparisons in the media of Titanic to Avatar, and despite the huge three-weekend gross, it's still far too early to say that Avatar is going to be a $600 million film like Titanic was. It took the sinking boat movie 45 days to earn what Avatar has amassed in only 15 days. While Avatar has showed zero signs of slowing, the truth will come out next weekend over a non-holiday weekend, where this is at least some competition for the same demographic, in the form of Daybreakers and Youth in Revolt. Titanic dropped only 14% when moving from the New Year's weekend to its more normal follow-up. Avatar can't keep that pace up, but I think if we see a drop of less than 30% for Avatar, we are definitely going to see a new film get past 1997's Titanic, which finished with $600.8 million on the domestic front. Internationally, Avatar has cleared the half-billion mark, but is still far away from clearing Titanic's overseas gross of $1.2 billion. Domestically, Avatar has a running total of $352.1 million, and is already setting the bar for 2010.

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