Moviegoers made a New Year's resolution: to see as many pictures as possible New Year's weekend. Crowds swarmed the multiplexes as if they were Times Square on Dec. 31, and the studios were celebrating. Business was up 70% over last year, when the top dog was Marley & Me. Leading the revelry was the sci-fi rainforest thriller Avatar, which earned another $68.3 million in North American theaters, according to studio estimates, and has now grossed $352.1 million in 17 days. More impressive, James Cameron's blue greenies have already hit the $1 billion mark at the worldwide box office. Instead of guzzling Champagne, Cameron should be doused in the stuff, like a winning coach getting a Gatorade shower.
Avatar started out big; that was to be expected. What's impressive is its staying power. The movie has been No. 1 every day but two the days when its two most formidable rivals, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel and Sherlock Holmes, opened and its daily theatrical take has dipped below $15 million only on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, when, let's be frank, only people with seasonal disorders should be at the movies. Avatar hit the $300 million mark at the domestic box office on Friday, its 15th day of release. Transformers 2, the top-grossing movie of the 2009 calendar year, took just 14 days to reach $300 million. But the toy-bot sequel lost some steam thereafter, and didn't reach $350 million until its 23rd day of release. Avatar dropped only 9% from last weekend's bonanza, and will surely beat Transformers 2's $400 million domestic total. Now the adversary Avatar is chasing is The Dark Knight, the movie with the second-highest gross of all time... after Cameron's Titanic.
With no big new entries in the movie marketplace, audiences turned to old acquaintances some just a week old and last weekend's first four finishers held their ground. The Robert Downey Jr., Sherlock Holmes and the singing-rodent Squeakquel have fought mano-a-munko for second place since they opened, with Holmes winning the weekends and Alvin the weekdays. Teen boys and other Baker Street Irregulars voted for the martial-arts sleuth, while kids followed their parents' advice, not the contemptuous critical consensus, and saw Alvin. (Such misplaced priorities warrant serious investigation.) It's Complicated, the Meryl-and-Alec romantic comedy about the swinging 60s the swing, and they're in their 60s again finished fourth.
The same New Year's day that Avatar passed the $300 million milestone, The Blind Side a movie that cost about a tenth as much to make hit $200 million. Continuing to defy the gravity of box-office economics, it saw its New Year's weekend take rise actually rise over the Christmas frame. (The Princess and the Frog and, mirabile dictu, Did You Hear About the Morgans? also saw small increases.) So hearty is the momentum of the Sandra Bullock football weepie that it beat the George Clooney Oscar fave Up in the Air, which just went into wide release on Christmas. No wonder the American theater owners voted Bullock the star of the year just the fourth woman to receive that designation in the 77-year history of the award. An Oscar nomination for Best Actress is likely to follow.
Here are the weekend's top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, as reported by Box Office Mojo.com:1. Avatar, $68.3 million: $352.1 million, third week
2. Sherlock Holmes, $38.4 million; $104.7 million, second week
3. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, $36.6 million, $157.3 million, second week
4. It's Complicated, $18.7 million; $59.1 million, second week
5. The Blind Side, $12.7 million; $209.1 million, seventh week
6. Up in the Air, $11.4 million; $45 million, fifth week
7. The Princess and the Frog, $10 million; $86.1 million, sixth week
8. Did You Hear About the Morgans?, $5.2 million; $28.5 million, third week
9. Nine, $4.3 million; $14.1 million, third week
10. Invictus, $4.1 million; $30.7 million, fifth week