Billion-dollar 'Avatar' strikes box office paydirt

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The Independent Culture

Ground-breaking science-fiction epic "Avatar" smashed the one-billion-dollar barrier over the weekend and is on course to become the highest-grossing film of all time, final figures showed Monday.

Fueled by consecutive holiday weekends and pricey 3-D tickets, North American sales for James Cameron's blockbuster scooped another 68.5 million dollars, for a three-week total of 352.1 million, according to the figures.

With more than 670 million dollars internationally, "Avatar" has become only the fifth film ever to gross more than one billion dollars and is fourth on the all-time list of top earners, box office tracker Exhibitor Relations said.

Cameron's 1997 Oscar-winner "Titanic" remains the highest grossing movie of all time with 1.8 billion dollars, followed by 2003's "Lord of the Rings" finale and 2006's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest."

However, Exhibitor Relations chief analyst Jeff Bock said that if "Avatar" continues to register large numbers at the North American box office, it could threaten the "Titanic" record.

Bock noted the sci-fi saga's earnings had registered only a nine percent fall from the previous week, which augured well for the film.

"The way that it's holding up is incredible," Bock said. "If we see another 50-million-dollar weekend next week, then you know this movie is in it for the long haul - and if that's the case, 'Titanic' better watch out."

"Avatar" tells the story of paralyzed war veteran Jake, who is sent on a mission from Earth to the planet Pandora, where he falls in love with a blue humanoid named Neytiri of the alien Na'vi race.

"The film is drawing in all demographics, including people who would not normally have seen a 3-D film," Bock said.

It reportedly cost around 500 million dollars to make and market the blockbuster. Yet analysts predict the film's success will lead to a surge in studios developing films for 3-D.

"The ramifications of 'Avatar's' performance are huge. Ripple effects are going to occur fast and furiously," Bock said.

"In only three weeks, 'Avatar' has become the fourth-highest grossing film ever. The gains far outweigh the risks right now."

Coming in a distant second for the weekend, but still with a respectable 36.6 million dollars, was Guy Ritchie's "Sherlock Holmes." Its two-week total has now reached 138.7 million dollars.

In third place, also in its second week, was the comedy "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel," which took 35.2 million dollars.

Holding firm in fourth place was "It's Complicated," a comedy starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, earning 18.8 million dollars.

Fifth place belonged to "The Blind Side," about a white couple who give a black teen a home and a new lease on life, with 11.9 million dollars.

"Up in the Air," starring George Clooney in the acclaimed story of a corporate downsizer who questions his role in life, held sixth place, with 10.7 million dollars.

Disney's "The Princess and the Frog" took seventh, with 9.8 million, while eighth place went to romantic comedy "Did You Hear About the Morgans?" with 4.9 million dollars.

In ninth was "Invictus," Clint Eastwood's drama starring Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman about how South African president Nelson Mandela united his country around the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

Tenth spot was taken by "Nine" the Broadway musical's film adaptation starring Daniel Day-Lewis as a film director in mid-life crisis juggling a wife (Marion Cotillard), mistress (Penelope Cruz) and film star muse (Nicole Kidman). It scored 3.9 million dollars.

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