Monday, January 18, 2010

'Avatar' passes 'Star Wars' for 3rd place - and helps choke out the future of the indie?

'Avatar' passes 'Star Wars' with $491.8 million domestically

The Force is now with James Cameron as the 3-D epic

Associated Press

January 17, 2010 | 10:58 a.m.

James Cameron's "Avatar" had a $41.3 million weekend to shoot past "Star Wars" as the No. 3 movie on the all-time domestic box office charts. Next stop, "The Dark Knight."

No. 1 for the fifth-straight weekend, Cameron's sci-fi saga raised its domestic total to $491.8 million and should top $500 million after revenues are counted on Martin Luther King Day, according to studio estimates Sunday.

Worldwide, 20th Century Fox's "Avatar" lifted its total to $1.6 billion, second only to Cameron's last movie, 1997's "Titanic," at $1.8 billion.

"One guy makes two movies in 10 years, and they're by far the biggest movies of all time. That's remarkable," said Chris Aronson, head of distribution for the studio.

"Avatar" topped the original "Star Wars," which took in $460.9 million domestically in its original run and several reissues over the years. But factoring in today's higher admission prices, "Star Wars" remains well ahead of "Avatar" on actual number of tickets sold.

"Avatar" now is closing in on "The Dark Knight," No. 2 domestically with $533.3 million. After that, only Cameron's "Titanic" at $600 million will remain ahead of "Avatar" domestically.

"We'll be proud of our No. 3 slot," said Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros., which released "The Dark Knight" and has hopes for more in the Batman franchise from its director, Christopher Nolan. "I can just give Chris Nolan a nudge that he's got to raise the bar."

Warner, which has Nolan's sci-fi tale "Inception" with Leonardo DiCaprio opening this July, had a strong No. 2 debut of $31.6 million for its action thriller "The Book of Eli." The movie stars Denzel Washington as a post-apocalypse prophet carrying the last known Bible to safe haven across a decimated America.

Expanding nationwide after a month in limited release, Paramount's drama "The Lovely Bones" came in at No. 3 with $17.1 million. Directed by "The Lord of the Rings" creator Peter Jackson, "The Lovely Bones" features Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz and Stanley Tucci in the story of a murdered teen looking back on the world from the afterlife.

Lionsgate's family action tale "The Spy Next Door" debuted at No. 6 with $9.7 million. It stars Jackie Chan as a newly retired agent forced back into the spy game when bad guys come after him and his girlfriend's kids.

Like "Titanic," which dominated the Academy Awards 12 years ago, "Avatar" is expected to remain aloft in the box office charts as Oscar season progresses. "Avatar" was up for best drama at Sunday's Golden Globes and is considered a likely best-picture nominee when Oscar nominations come out Feb. 2.

"It's kind of the cherry on top of the cake for this movie to not only be a massive box office hit, but to get all this awards attention," said Paul Dergarabedian, box office analyst for "It's hard sometimes to get a 50- or 60-year-old out of their chair to go see a science-fiction movie in 3-D. But if 'Avatar' gets enough recognition from the critics, they may just do it."

Fox executive Aronson would not say if the studio expects "Avatar" to pass either the $600 million domestic total for "Titanic" or its $1.8 billion worldwide total. Some box office watchers say "Avatar" could climb as high $2 billion, though.

"'Titanic' was a ship. Batman had a motorcycle. 'Avatar's' a rocket ship," Aronson said. "Is there a lot of fuel left in the tank? You bet."

Even if "Avatar" sets a new revenue record, it's doubtful it would sell as many tickets as "Titanic" did because of today's higher admission prices.

"Titanic" sold about 130 million tickets domestically based on average ticket prices of about $4.60 back in 1997 and 1998. Based on today's average domestic price of about $7.50, "Avatar" would be at around half that mark.

Average admission prices for "Avatar" likely run even higher, given that much of its business comes from a 3-D version, which costs a few dollars extra to see.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Final figures will be released Tuesday.

1. "Avatar," $41.3 million

2. "The Book of Eli," $31.6 million

3. "The Lovely Bones," $17.1 million

4. "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel," $11.5 million

5. "Sherlock Holmes," $9.8 million

6. "The Spy Next Door," $9.7 million

7. "It's Complicated," $7.7 million

8. "Leap Year," $5.8 million

9. "The Blind Side," $5.6 million

10. "Up in the Air," $5.5 million

Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

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  • COMMENTS (0) | Add Comment

    While I really liked Avatar, and it has good things to say, and it's an amazing technical achievement... I'm not sure it deserved the Golden Globe. That -- along with the pic stacking $1.6B+ globally -- will only encourage studios to pass up smaller films and go for the event movie even more often.

    ...Unless we all (no, really, ALL) remember to go to the smaller-budget movies and show that their margins can be high on a percentage basis.

    Unfortunately, many distributors seem so very enthusiastic about buying smaller pictures, then fail to come through with even a modest marketing push, gambling that a website and a tiny viral campaign will allow them to get away with spending (risking) next to nothing.

    So, could it be that we -- as active social networkers, bloggers, and texters who can spread the word about the little indie gems -- could be responsible for the success or failure of the smaller movie in theatrical distribution?

    Or will all small movies eventually be relegated to disc-only release, while the theaters become the exclusive residence of the mega-tentpole, 3-D, Scent-O-Rama extravaganza?

    True, movies of scale work better on a big screen, and IMAX is pretty amazing. And indies seem to tend to be scaled more for an intimate setting like your living room. But there's nothing like seeing even an intimate movie with a decent-sized audience for that collective experience... not to mention the emotional power of the big screen and the sound system. Plus the fact that somebody else gets to clean up the spilled popcorn later.

    And all this is without even touching on decent budgets -- and local production -- keeping solvent the workers in the factory town known as LaLa.

    One worries about these things... Not just because one makes at least part of one's living from the industry. But also because there really isn't any substitute for going out to the movies.
    [Then again, I wonder if the box office comparison to Star Wars is in inflation-adjusted dollars...]

    Posted via web from Yes, That Bob West

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