Weekend Box Office (January 29 - 31, 2010)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND Once again, it wasn't even close. James Cameron's 3D epic Avatar ruled the box office for the seventh consecutive time grossing more than the frame's two new releases combined. With another remarkably low decline, the sci-fi actioner put itself within inches of passing Titanic's all-time domestic record while incredible staying power overseas propelled the worldwide gross past the $2 billion mark. Picking up the crumbs were the new films Edge of Darkness with Mel Gibson which enjoyed a mediocre debut and the romantic comedy When in Rome which did better than expected in third place.

With another $31.3M, according to final studio figures, Avatar had no problem defending its crown during its seventh weekend to remain the most popular movie choice in North America. Off a slim 11%, the Fox smash watched its total soar to an eye-popping $595.8M after only 45 days of release. The Na'vi pic is now only three days away from breaking the $600M mark and sailing past the $600.8M domestic record held by Titanic for twelve years.

Of course, Avatar is benefiting from higher ticket prices for 2D films as well as surcharges from 3D and IMAX 3D screens where the bulk of the business is coming from. As for total audience size, Titanic sold roughly 125 million tickets while Avatar has sold in the neighborhood of 70 million and counting which is about equal to the tallies of 2004's Shrek 2 and 2002's Spider-Man. Studios generally do not reveal exact admissions figures. Still, movie fans have never emptied their wallets to this extent before.

No film since the iceberg pic has spent at least seven weekends at number one and Avatar set a new record for grosses in the seventh weekend beating Titanic's $25.9M from 1998. As if the Pandora adventure needs any more momentum, Tuesday morning will bring the announcement of Academy Award nominations and Avatar is expected to score nods for Picture and Director in addition to several technical notices. In fact, it may be among the films with the most overall nominations which would serve to keep selling the film throughout February to the few who have not seen it yet. Shattering the $700M mark is all but guaranteed now and next weekend should see it at the top for the eighth straight time.

More than tripling its domestic performance, Avatar grossed another $95M overseas this weekend for a slender 12% decline as the film's sensational legs are carrying it forward all around the world. The international total has now surged to $1.445 billion allowing the worldwide take to shatter the $2 billion barrier. The global gross stands at $2.04 billion and the current trajectory puts it on course to possibly reach a staggering $2.5 billion. Then again, every industry estimate for Avatar 's final gross has had to be revised upwards during its historic run.

Mel Gibson's face returned to the big screen for the first time in nearly eight years with the revenge thriller Edge of Darkness which generated a decent but not stellar opening with $17.2M. Averaging a somewhat good $5,615 from 3,066 locations, the R-rated film about a Boston detective out to solve his daughter's murder earned generally positive reviews and played to an adult audience. But Darkness opened below the $21.2M of Gibson's 1999 film Payback, another R-rated gritty crime thriller released at this same time of year, which would be $30M at today's ticket prices. Edge also did not come close to the $24.7M bow of Liam Neeson's own daddy-wants-revenge thriller Taken from this weekend last year. Gibson attracted plenty of bad press over the last three years with his arrest and divorce and had mostly stayed away from the spotlight until now. Future films will show whether his starpower has truly faded or if moviegoers will still flock to him in big-ticket items.

Opening better than expected in third place was the romantic comedy When in Rome starring Kristen Bell which grossed $12.4M from 2,456 theaters. Averaging a solid $5,029 per location, the PG-13 film about a New York career gal that travels to Italy to find love connected with female audiences not in the mood for blue aliens and gun-toting dads out for revenge. According to studio research, the critically panned film's audience was 69% female and 55% over 25. It easily bested the $9.2M bow of the Amy Adams flick Leap Year, another romantic comedy about a Yankee lady hopping the Atlantic to find Mr. Right.

With no new kiddie movies opening, Fox's The Tooth Fairy enjoyed a solid hold dipping only 29% to $10M in its second weekend of release. But the Dwayne Johnson family comedy still only stands at $26.1M and could find its way to $50-60M. Denzel Washington's The Book of Eli is doing much better overall. Down 43% to $8.9M, the Warner Bros. pic has banked an impressive $74.5M in 17 days making it the only new film of 2010 to surpass $30M.

Sony's supernatural thriller Legion collapsed in its second frame tumbling 59% to $7.2M for a $29M total. Budgeted in the $25-30M range, the R-rated film looks to reach about $40M by the end of its run. The Peter Jackson-helmed The Lovely Bones followed with $4.7M, down 44%, raising the sum to $38M.

A trio of big boys from Christmas weekend with good holds rounded out the top ten. Sherlock Holmes took in $4.5M dropping 32% and pushed the cume to $197.6M for Warner Bros. Fox's Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel fell 38% to $4M for $209.3M to date. And the Meryl Streep comedy It's Complicated grossed $3.8M, off 35%, giving Universal $104.1M and a spot in the century club.

Some interesting activity took place outside of the top ten. Sandra Bullock's The Blind Side scored another solid hold in its eleventh weekend of release dipping just 28% to $3M vaulting the total to an amazing $237.9M. The actress may earn an Oscar nomination this week for her role which would only help the sleeper hit's chances of passing the $250M mark. On the other hand, the Brendan Fraser-Harrison Ford drama Extraordinary Measures followed its weak debut with a dismal 56% tumble to $2.6M for a weak ten-day total of $10.4M. It represents a shaky start for new distributor CBS Films, however recent newbies Overture and Summit also flopped with their first releases only to score hits later on, most notably Summit with the Twilight series.

With Jeff Bridges looking like the front-runner in the Best Actor race, Fox Searchlight expanded its music tale Crazy Heart from 93 to 239 theaters across many markets and took in $2.3M for a solid $9,662 average. Total is $6.7M and moviegoer interest is sure to see a boost once Academy Award nominations are announced on Tuesday. Bridges has already won trophies from the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards. Elsewhere, Disney crossed the $100M mark with its latest animated feature The Princess and the Frog.

The top ten films grossed $104M which was up 8% from last year when Taken opened in the top spot with $24.7M; and up 10% from 2008 when Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds 3D debuted at number one with $31.1M with $15 tickets.

Compared to projections, Edge of Darkness did not reach my $22M forecast while When in Rome powered ahead of my $8M prediction.

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

Check the UPDATED blockbusters charts for Worldwide and Domestic. For a review of The Lovely Bones and a DVD review of Like Stars on Earth visit The Chief Report.

Be sure to check back on Thursday for a complete summary, including projections, for next weekend when From Paris With Love and Dear John both open over Super Bowl weekend.

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

# Title Jan 29 - 31 Jan 22 - 24 % Chg. Theaters Weeks AVG Cumulative Distributor
1 Avatar $ 31,280,029 $ 34,944,081 -10.5 3,074 7 $ 10,176 $ 595,752,416 Fox
2 Edge of Darkness 17,214,384 3,066 1 5,615 17,214,384 Warner Bros.
3 When in Rome 12,350,041 2,456 1 5,029 12,350,041 Buena Vista
4 The Tooth Fairy 9,998,109 14,010,409 -28.6 3,345 2 2,989 26,104,387 Fox
5 The Book of Eli 8,908,286 15,732,463 -43.4 3,075 3 2,897 74,511,765 Warner Bros.
6 Legion 7,176,375 17,501,625 -59.0 2,476 2 2,898 29,022,786 Sony
7 The Lovely Bones 4,726,828 8,418,192 -43.8 2,638 6 1,792 38,005,738 Paramount
8 Sherlock Holmes 4,515,344 6,628,069 -31.9 2,250 6 2,007 197,601,522 Warner Bros.
9 Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel 3,997,136 6,403,504 -37.6 2,526 6 1,582 209,294,997 Fox
10 It's Complicated 3,804,215 5,810,025 -34.5 2,096 6 1,815 104,111,035 Universal
11 The Blind Side 3,021,317 4,166,136 -27.5 1,751 11 1,725 237,914,805 Warner Bros.
12 Up in the Air 2,801,141 3,902,190 -28.2 1,430 9 1,959 73,273,311 Paramount
13 Extraordinary Measures 2,619,257 6,012,594 -56.4 2,549 2 1,028 10,445,568 CBS
14 Crazy Heart 2,309,245 1,353,214 70.6 239 7 9,662 6,657,379 Fox Searchlight
15 The Spy Next Door 2,075,020 4,584,524 -54.7 1,851 3 1,121 21,539,771 Lionsgate
16 Leap Year 1,015,910 2,889,110 -64.8 1,135 4 895 24,734,590 Universal
17 The Princess and the Frog 800,570 1,292,793 -38.1 728 10 1,100 100,352,358 Buena Vista
18 To Save a Life 733,457 1,513,955 -51.6 440 2 1,667 2,569,955 Samuel Goldwyn
19 Daybreakers 699,338 1,551,703 -54.9 725 4 965 29,423,212 Lionsgate
20 The Young Victoria 584,399 745,514 -21.6 390 7 1,498 7,673,212 Apparition
Top 5 $ 79,750,849 $ 90,606,770 -12.0
Top 10 103,970,747 120,045,486 -13.4
Top 20 120,630,401 138,996,723 -13.2
Top 20 vs. 2009 120,630,401 118,686,019 1.6

Last Updated: February 2, 2010 at 11:30AM ET