Weekend Box Office – AVATAR Edges Out SHERLOCK HOLMES On the Biggest Christmas Weekend Ever!

     December 27, 2009


The biggest movie of all time (in scope if not yet in grosses) has now led to the biggest weekend of all time at the box office. James Cameron’s 3D Avatar pulled ahead of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes on Saturday, claiming a second weekend at number one with an estimated $75 million from its 3,456 theatres. But there were plenty of good tidings to go around. With estimated ticket sales topping $278 million all-told, the last weekend in December turned out to be both the biggest Christmas on record and the biggest weekend of all time, surpassing that fabled frame of July 18, 2008 when The Dark Knight ruled.

Title Weekend Total
1 Avatar $75,000,000 $212.2
2 Sherlock Holmes $65,380,000 $65.4
3 Alvin & the Chipmunks 2 $50,200,000 $77.1
4 It’s Complicated $22,100,000 $22.1
5 Up in the Air $11,755,000 $24.5
6 The Blind Side $11,300,000 $184.3
7 The Princess & the Frog $8,683,000 $63.3
8 Nine $5,500,000 $5.9
9 Did You Hear About the Morgans? $5,000,000 $15.5
10 Invictus $4,390,000 $23.3

avatar_french_poster_02.jpgIn the ten days since Avatar first hit theatres the fortunes of this giant blue film have shifted dramatically. In its opening weekend the film was hampered by that giant snowstorm which held attendance back by a reported 15-80% in some eastern cities on the most important day of the movie week – Saturday. Complex mathematical equations were then applied and a first weekend estimate of about $73 million was announced. But a funny thing happened on Sunday. People shoveled out and went to see Avatar, throwing off those equations by over $4 million and placing Avatar on top of I Am Legend for all-time December releases after all. And all was right with the world.

As of today Avatar has earned $212 million domestically and $255 million internationally for a grand total of over $467 million. This was always the narrative that fit best for this oversized movie: a big opening before Christmas followed by a power walk to 2010. The only possible fly in Fox’s ointment was the impending release of Warner Brothers’ Sherlock Holmes reboot. A big marketing push for the film seemed to be working especially well with female audiences – you know, the folks who made The Blind Side into one of the most financially successful films of the year and who were not supposed to be all that sweet on the big blue people of Pandora? But in this season of miracles, it turns out that there was money enough for all movies at the multiplex… with maybe one exception.

Nine, the big, splashy holiday offering from The Weinstein Co. turned out to be the only Achilles’ heel of the bountiful Christmas season. Director Rob Marshall’s musical follow-up to Chicago, expanded into 1,412 theatres on Christmas Day. Despite sporting one of the most impressive casts of the year, Nine could only drum up $5.5 million over its first three days – or a very poor per-screen average of $1,800. Not exactly the awards-season kick off TWC was looking for.

Sherlock Holmes movie image Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law.jpg

But back to the good news. Though Sherlock Holmes had to relinquish its hold on first place after its Friday debut, no one at Warner Brothers has any reason to be disappointed with the film’s first three days. Playing in 3,656 theatres, Holmes brought in $65.3 million or an average of over $18,000 per screen. And that without the extra-costly ticket prices of the 3D Avatar.  The studio was hoping to break $70 million by Sunday with Sherlock (and I suppose it could still happen) but with Avatar in the mix I think that everyone involved should be very satisfied with that $65 million estimate.

The third giant number on this weekend’s top ten belongs to the week’s only sequel – Alvin and the Chipmunks 2. (I find its real subtitle The Squeakquel both annoying and difficult to spell). Alvin managed to temporarily knock Avatar off stride when it debuted in first place on Wednesday, December 23rd. Sunday’s estimates put the film in third place with $50 million but ahead of Sherlock Holmes in total grosses – $65 Its Complicated movie image Alec Baldwin and Meryl Streep.jpgto &77 million.

When three of the top four films of the week have pulled in over $50 million, a movie that made only $22 million doesn’t seem very impressive. But considering the film that claims that weekend total is a romantic comedy from Universal starring two people in their 50s, I’d say that It’s Complicated is way ahead of the game. In fact, despite my aversion to Nancy Myers’ movies, I plan on catching Complicated myself – if only to convince Alec Baldwin that he is indeed capable of producing a financially successful film. Silly man.

Finally, this year’s early awards-season front runner Up in the Air went wide on Christmas. Jason Reitman’s film, made for only $24 million, has already made that amount back – nearly half of that in the past three days. Since Friday Up in the Air has been running neck and neck with The Blind Side – or the drama that would not die, as I’ve taken to calling it. Just to give you some idea of what I mean, in its fourth week in theatres The Blind Side dropped 640 theatres and still went up by 17% over last week’s grosses. That is nearly unheard of – and yet it’s somehow fitting for this most gigantic of movie-Christmases.  See you in 2010!


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