Weekend Box Office (January 8 - 10, 2010)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Successfully defending his land from intruders like the Na'vi, James Cameron had no problem staying put at number one at the North American box office for a fourth consecutive weekend with his futuristic megablockbuster Avatar which grossed more than all three new releases combined. The silver and bronze once again went to Sherlock Holmes and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel while the vampire pic The Daybreakers led the new films with a decent fourth place debut. Avatar, meanwhile, showed enough strength around the world that it has now put Titanic's all-time records in jeopardy.

Tripling its nearest competitor's grosses, Fox's Avatar enjoyed yet another remarkable frame on top taking in $50.3M, according to final studio figures, as the 24-day cume skyrocketed to an unbelievable $430.8M. Its 27% decline was the smallest of any film in wide release proving that the 3D adventure is still pulling in moviegoers even after the close of the busy holiday season. In its fourth round, Avatar is still averaging a muscular $14,701 per theater. Generating sizable grosses during the holidays is common, but to remain this strong in January is uncommon.

The decline is especially impressive since Friday last weekend was the New Year's holiday which boosted business for all films. Compared to last weekend's daily numbers, Friday this weekend fell by 48% but Saturday slipped by only 18% while Sunday dipped by just 9%. Saturday's $21.3M was incredibly strong this weekend as the 60% increase from Friday's $13.3M was tops among all non-kiddie movies. In fact, Saturday was bigger than the entire weekend grosses for any other film. Titanic and Star Wars Episode I also enjoyed supercharged Saturday grosses during their leggy runs. Avatar's performance is outstanding given that it is a male-skewing action film competing against the start of the NFL playoffs which featured games on both Saturday and Sunday this weekend.

Avatar's three-day tally was easily the biggest gross ever for any film in its fourth weekend of release beating the old $28.7M record from 2,746 sites of Titanic from this very same frame twelve years ago. At today's ticket prices, that would amount to $45M and it wasn't in 3D meaning the two films sold about the same amount of tickets at this stage of the release. The 3D adventure's third and fourth weekends now rank as January's two biggest weekend grosses ever. The month's biggest opening frame is $40.1M by 2008's Cloverfield. No other films, debuting or holdover, have ever broken $40M in a January session.

Avatar smashed the $400M mark on Saturday in just 23 days making it the second fastest movie in history behind The Dark Knight which only needed 18 days in 2008. After 24 days, the Pandora film is running a mere 2% behind the pace of the Joker flick which had amassed $441.6M at this same point in its run. By this Friday, Avatar should surpass the pace of Knight and eventually finish ahead of that film's monster $533.3M cume.

On the all-time domestic blockbusters list, Avatar surged to number seven between the $431.1M of 1999's Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and the $423.3M of 2006's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. After Monday, it might rise to number four passing Shrek 2 and E.T. Admissions, of course, are another story. Should Avatar continue on a course that sees moderate 35% weekly declines, it would be able to reach at least $581M domestically while a more durable run could see it break Titanic's $600.8M benchmark. Click here for a weekly breakdown of one possible scenario of Avatar's road ahead.

Defying gravity, Avatar actually saw international sales rise this weekend by 5% to an estimated $143M helped in part by a record-breaking opening week in China. That shot the overseas total to a mind-boggling $906.2M boosting the worldwide tally to $1.35 billion. A whopping 68% of sales are coming from the offshore markets and that ratio should climb as the film's strong domestic legs are overshadowed by phenomenal staying power internationally. Overseas business accounted for 75% of this weekend's $193M global take. Avatar now looks very likely to break Titanic's long-standing $1.8 billion record to become the number one global blockbuster of all-time.

Not having the same legs at the box office was Sherlock Holmes which tumbled 55% to $16.6M in the third weekend suffering a sharp fall now that the holiday season is gone. Still, the Warner Bros. franchise hopeful did remain the biggest non-Na'vi film in the land for the third straight frame and has bumped its 17-day total to an impressive $165.2M. Breaking the $200M mark is still a possibility.

Also falling sharply was Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel which stayed put in third with $16.6M dropping 53%. Fox has banked $178.5M with its franchise pic and is still on course to fly past the $200M mark just like its predecessor. Together, the two Chipmunks films should total over $430M just from North America.

Lionsgate enjoyed a decent debut for its vampire thriller The Daybreakers which landed in fourth place with $15.1M from 2,523 locations. The R-rated horror entry averaged a solid $6,003 and even drew good reviews from critics which is rare for this genre. Ticket sales dipped 5% on Saturday after the opening day so the usual rapid erosion is likely.

Universal followed with a pair of chick flicks anchored by the stars of last summer's Julie & Julia. The Nancy Meyers film It's Complicated starring Meryl Streep fell 42% to $11M in its third session boosting the 17-day total to $76.4M. Debuting in sixth place was the Amy Adams engagement comedy Leap Year which didn't fare that well with audiences with $9.2M bow from 2,511 locations. Averaging only $3,665 per site, the PG-rated film skewed heavily towards women with females making up 79% of the audience and 54% being 30 or older. Reviews were horrendous. It did not come close to the $19.8M of last year's Bride Wars or the $23M of 27 Dresses - both January comedies aimed at young women.

In its eighth weekend, Sandra Bullock's The Blind Side finally dropped below the $10M mark grossing $7.5M for seventh place. The sleeper smash slipped only 37% and upped its amazing cume to $219M. Paramount's awards contender Up in the Air followed with $7.2M, off just 33%, for a $54.8M total.

The Weinstein Co. saw a weak opening for its teen comedy Youth in Revolt which debuted down in ninth place with $6.9M from 1,873 sites for a mild $3,678 average. The R-rated Michael Cera pic attracted favorable reviews but its target audience of young adults had bigger films in the marketplace to take away their attention.

Rounding out the top ten was Disney's The Princess and the Frog with $4.7M in its seventh round, down a steep 53%, pushing the cume to $92.5M.

The top ten films grossed $145M which was up 19% from last year when Gran Torino opened wide in the top spot with $29.5M; and up a healthy 47% from 2007 when The Bucket List debuted at number one with $19.4M.

Compared to projections, The Daybreakers and Leap Year both opened a couple of notches below my respective forecasts of $17M and $12M. Youth in Revolt was on target with my $7M prediction.

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

Check the UPDATED charts for the Top Worldwide Blockbusters, Top Hits of 2009, International Grosses, and Golden Globe Nominee Grosses.

For reviews of Avatar and The Lovely Bones visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when The Book of Eli and The Spy Next Door both open.

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

# Title Jan 8 - 10 Jan 1 - 3 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Avatar $ 50,306,217 $ 68,490,688 -26.6 3,422 4 $ 14,701 $ 430,846,514 Fox
2 Sherlock Holmes 16,585,327 36,612,481 -54.7 3,626 3 4,574 165,153,093 Warner Bros.
3 Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel 16,566,489 35,189,653 -52.9 3,641 3 4,550 178,451,165 Fox
4 Daybreakers 15,146,692 2,523 1 6,003 15,146,692 Lionsgate
5 It's Complicated 11,007,875 18,802,965 -41.5 2,955 3 3,725 76,370,540 Universal
6 Leap Year 9,202,815 2,511 1 3,665 9,202,815 Universal
7 The Blind Side 7,531,467 11,912,749 -36.8 2,880 8 2,615 218,978,376 Warner Bros.
8 Up in the Air 7,159,294 10,720,052 -33.2 2,218 6 3,228 54,800,688 Paramount
9 Youth in Revolt 6,888,334 1,873 1 3,678 6,888,334 Weinstein Co.
10 The Princess and the Frog 4,651,156 9,824,311 -52.7 2,620 7 1,775 92,546,727 Buena Vista
11 The Imaginarium of Doctor... 1,762,637 127,634 1281.0 607 3 2,904 2,989,290 Sony Classics
12 Invictus 1,722,246 3,909,312 -55.9 1,340 5 1,285 33,506,889 Warner Bros.
13 The Twilight Saga: New Moon 1,703,809 3,442,263 -50.5 1,167 8 1,460 290,743,279 Summit
14 Nine 1,614,900 3,901,203 -58.6 1,060 4 1,523 16,837,007 Weinstein Co.
15 Did You Hear About the Morgans? 1,546,172 4,932,338 -68.7 1,820 4 850 28,346,423 Sony
16 The Young Victoria 1,180,595 891,371 32.4 476 4 2,480 4,506,000 Apparition
17 3 Idiots 594,380 1,494,542 -60.2 156 3 3,810 5,602,911 Big Pictures
18 Precious 464,718 924,203 -49.7 408 9 1,139 44,311,459 Lionsgate
19 Crazy Heart 462,126 220,988 109.1 33 4 14,004 1,246,747 Fox Searchlight
20 Broken Embraces 370,691 439,901 -15.7 111 8 3,340 2,547,040 Sony Classics
Top 5 $ 109,612,600 $ 171,008,536 -35.9
Top 10 145,045,666 204,295,752 -29.0
Top 20 156,467,940 215,628,854 -27.4
Top 20 vs. 2009 156,467,940 141,300,893 10.7

Last Updated: January 11, 2010 at 7:00PM ET