Weekend Box Office (January 1 - 3, 2010)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Over the first weekend of 2010, moviegoers still had their minds on the year 2154 as James Cameron's futuristic 3D adventure Avatar easily remained number one for a third consecutive frame breaking records and smashing the $1 billion global box office milestone in the process. With no new releases, the top ten was filled with the same movies as some dropped harder than others while a small handful enjoyed sales boosts thanks to Friday being a holiday for New Year's Day. The Top 20 grossed a scorching $215M kicking off the new decade on the right note.

Dipping a mere 9% from its busy Christmas weekend haul, Avatar grossed a sensational $68.5M propelling its 17-day total to an eye-popping $352.1M, according to final studio figures. The sci-fi epic broke the record for the best third-weekend gross ever beating Spider-Man's $45M from May 2002. Even with today's higher ticket prices and 3D surcharges, Avatar still sold more tickets than the first webslinger pic - approximately 8.4 million vs. 7.8 million. Spider-Man was not helped by any holidays in its third weekend, however. The Na'vi pic also became the second fastest film in history to break the $350M mark. Only The Dark Knight did it quicker in 14 days on its way to a $533.3M final.

Avatar enjoyed one of the lowest drops among wide releases meaning audiences are still happy with the product and spreading positive buzz. Many of the top-grossing movies of all-time started out with gargantuan numbers but then faded quickly. The mega-budgeted actioner has also grossed more than $10M each day of its release across 17 consecutive days - also a record.

Avatar has hauled in the second largest 17-day start for any film and only trails The Dark Knight which made $393.8M last year by the end of its third weekend. But the Na'vi flick has been catching up and could eventually surpass the Joker pic to take the number two spot on the all-time domestic list after Titanic. Compared to the Batsequel, Avatar was 51% behind after three days, 32% behind after 10 days, and is now lagging by just 11%. That gap could be cut in half again after next weekend and the two should be equal at around the 31-day mark when Knight stood at $471.1M. After the fifth weekend, Avatar may just end up flying ahead. Plus, if it wins a major award at the Golden Globes on January 17 or scores a Best Picture Oscar nod in the expanded field of ten nominees on February 2 then the film could enjoy even more longevity.

So the big question on industry minds is how high can Avatar go? The first 17 days were always going to be supercharged thanks to the opening weekend plus the Christmas and New Year's holidays. Titanic used the same strategy 12 years ago. But with adults and most teens going back to work and school on Monday, midweek grosses will start to deflate. The film will, however, benefit from college students still being on break for the next two weeks so weekday grosses will still be a little better than normal, but not quite summer-like.

The road ahead looks promising for Avatar because of a lethal combination - excitement remains strong so audiences are still very interested plus competing movies in January do not look to offer much firepower. The iceberg pic also had a weak slate of loser films to deal with so moviegoers had nothing else to shift their attention to. Should Avatar find itself with modest daily grosses of $6M this week and then depreciate by 35% per week for the rest of its run, it would still reach an astounding $547M by the end of its domestic run.

The self-proclaimed king of the world remained the leader of the worldwide box office with another $133.5M in ticket sales from overseas markets this weekend. That sent the international cume soaring to an astounding $670.2M and the global gross to a jaw-dropping $1.022 billion. Avatar easily became the fastest film in history to shatter the $1 billion mark doing it in a mere 19 days. Only four other blockbusters have ever reached ten-digits and they took weeks if not months to do so. Avatar currently ranks fourth on the list of all-time worldwide blockbusters between Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest ($1.07B) and The Dark Knight ($1B) and by this Saturday will surpass Pirates and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King ($1.12B) to claim the number two spot.

James Cameron will then own the two biggest worldwide blockbusters in motion picture history with Titanic and Avatar grossing $3 billion in combined ticket sales as of next weekend with much more to come. Globally, his latest megahit could soar to $1.5 billion or more and may even try to challenge the $1.835 billion of Jack and Rose.

Be sure to check BoxOfficeGuru.com all week for continued daily coverage of Avatar's record-breaking run.

Still tops among non-billion-dollar-grossers was Sherlock Holmes which dropped 41% in its second weekend to $36.6M boosting the ten-day cume to a spectacular $138.7M. However, the Robert Downey Jr.-Jude Law detective pic suffered the largest drop in the top ten as word-of-mouth has been decent, but not great. Warner Bros. could still find itself on track to cross $200M domestically with this one. Overseas, Holmes pulled in $37.5M from 33 markets pushing the international cume to $86.2M and the global gross to $225M. Leading markets offshore are the U.K. with $19M, Italy with $18M, and Australia with $13.4M.

Still in third collecting another $35.2M was the family smash Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel which fell by 28% in its second session. Fox has amassed a stellar $155.9M in only 12 days and has a shot at beating the $217.3M of the first Alvin film from two years ago. The kidpics of January will not provide too much competition so parents will remain focused on this entry. Add in Avatar and the studio has banked an amazing $508M from its two December hits in under three weeks.

Trailing the three juggernauts were two hits driven by A-list actresses. Meryl Streep's divorce comedy It's Complicated slipped 15% to $18.8M boosting the ten-day total to a solid $59.2M. The Universal release should be able to make it past the $100M mark. Crashing through the double-century barrier this weekend was Sandra Bullock's unstoppable smash The Blind Side which enjoyed a 3% uptick to $11.9M. Warner Bros. has now banked an incredible $208.5M and is probably headed north of the $225M level.

Paramount's awards contender Up in the Air dipped 5% and took in $10.7M lifting the cume to $44.4M. Disney followed with its animated pic The Princess and the Frog which rose 9% to $9.8M raising the total to $85.9M.

Not every film is doing gangbusters this holiday season and three underperformers rounded out the top ten. Sony's romantic comedy Did You Hear About the Morgans? was in eighth with $4.9M, off 1%, for a weak $25.3M cume. The musical Nine fell 29% to $3.9M in its second weekend of wide play and has grossed just $13.7M for The Weinstein Co. Clint Eastwood's Invictus has not done as well as expected during awards season and its box office results have performed the same way. The Warner Bros. title grossed $3.9M as well, down 4%, and has taken in just $30.6M thus far.

New totals for major films outside of the top ten include $287.9M for The Twilight Saga: New Moon, $163.4M for 2012, and $137.4M for A Christmas Carol. Worldwide tallies are $679M, $747M, and $311M respectively.

The top ten films grossed a stunning $204.3M which was up 66% from last year when Marley & Me stayed in the top spot with $24.3M; and up 82% from 2007 when National Treasure: The Book of Secrets remained in first place with $20.1M.

Compared to projections, Avatar soared higher than my $56M forecast, but Sherlock Holmes was close to my $41M prediction. Alvin finished a few notches above my $32M projection.

Get earlier box office updates and analysis by following BoxOfficeGuru.com on Twitter.

Check the UPDATED charts for the Top Blockbusters of 2009 and the Golden Globe Nominee Grosses.

Rewind ten years and check the box office chart for the first weekend of this decade: Dec 31, 1999 - Jan 2, 2000.

For reviews of Avatar and Sherlock Holmes visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when Daybreakers, Leap Year, and Youth in Revolt all aim to shoot down James Cameron.

Marketplace - Shop for DVDs, electronics, books, and posters at discounted prices:

# Title Jan 1 - 3 Dec 25 - 27 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Avatar $ 68,490,688 $ 75,617,133 -9.4 3,461 3 $ 19,789 $ 352,114,898 Fox
2 Sherlock Holmes 36,612,481 62,304,277 -41.2 3,626 2 10,097 138,715,437 Warner Bros.
3 Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel 35,189,653 48,875,415 -28.0 3,747 2 9,391 155,916,935 Fox
4 It's Complicated 18,802,965 22,100,820 -14.9 2,897 2 6,490 59,178,840 Universal
5 The Blind Side 11,912,749 11,519,345 3.4 2,926 7 4,071 208,476,067 Warner Bros.
6 Up in the Air 10,720,052 11,270,248 -4.9 1,895 5 5,657 44,375,265 Paramount
7 The Princess and the Frog 9,824,311 9,004,610 9.1 3,328 6 2,952 85,859,339 Buena Vista
8 Did You Hear About the Morgans? 4,932,338 5,000,143 -1.4 2,718 3 1,815 25,312,384 Sony
9 Nine 3,901,203 5,452,513 -28.5 1,412 3 2,763 13,745,976 Weinstein Co.
10 Invictus 3,909,312 4,067,541 -3.9 2,170 4 1,802 30,586,445 Warner Bros.
11 The Twilight Saga: New Moon 3,442,263 3,044,259 13.1 1,627 7 2,116 287,900,655 Summit
12 3 Idiots 1,494,542 1,645,502 -9.2 132 2 11,322 4,757,078 Big Pictures
13 Brothers 1,192,134 1,210,172 -1.5 858 5 1,389 27,414,913 Lionsgate
14 2012 1,093,128 994,494 9.9 800 6 1,366 163,442,129 Sony
15 Precious 924,203 865,083 6.8 629 8 1,469 43,492,192 Lionsgate
16 The Young Victoria (US only) 891,371 645,315 38.1 165 3 5,402 2,456,337 Apparition
17 Old Dogs 711,002 652,737 8.9 620 6 1,147 47,239,575 Buena Vista
18 A Christmas Carol 554,866 1,292,155 -57.1 981 9 566 137,443,917 Buena Vista
19 The Road 542,635 449,066 20.8 306 5 1,773 6,858,313 Weinstein Co.
20 A Single Man 486,958 352,652 38.1 46 4 10,586 1,731,649 Weinstein Co.
Top 5 $ 171,008,536 $ 220,453,368 -22.4
Top 10 204,295,752 255,230,634 -20.0
Top 20 215,628,854 266,384,810 -19.1
Top 20 vs. 2009 215,628,854 147,339,604 46.3

Last Updated: January 4, 2010 at 6:10PM ET