“Avatar” off to a slightly snowbound $73 million start

Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana, embellished, in Thursday night, I tried to imply that only the apocalypse itself could prevent “Avatar” from winning the weekend. And, while 2012 is still a few years away, Nikki Finke reports that a big East coast snow storm is being blamed for the film earning a below-expectations estimate of $73 million for Fox — $12 million less than the the $85 million figure that was being bandied about previously. Regardless, $73 million ain’t chicken feed, though with a ginormous budget ($300 million??) comes ginormous responsibility to rake in the megabucks.

If I were James Cameron, I wouldn’t worry too much, however. Finke is trumpeting the numbers for the more expensive 3-D and 3-D Imax screens and the worldwide take was a record setter, if you leave out all “franchise” films. In other word $159.2 million worldwide is the worldwide record for a film with no previously known characters and not a sequel to some prior hit.

More important, as I suggested on Thursday, the science-fiction spectacular’s strong reviews will likely be reflected in word of mouth among cinema civilians. Finke says that the audience approval surveys from Cinemascore gave the film an “A” across every “quadrant” — i.e., people of all age and gender groups seems to like it. With the Christmas vacation period just getting started and a few Oscar nominations almost certain, I think it’s safe to say that “Avatar” is in better than good shape, especially if a movie like “2012,” which lots of people saw but which I gather very few loved, could still be profitable with a production budget of $200 million. I’d like to think that, sometimes, movies that people actually like do better than movies they merely tolerate. Humor me.

As for the rest of the weekend box office, there wasn’t a whole lot of excitement. Taking a look at the ever-handy Box Office Mojo chart once again, the #2 and the #3 spot went to Disney’s hand-drawn “The Princess and the Frog,” which earned an estimated $12,224,000, and this year’s unrivaled sleeper hit from Warner Brothers, “The Blind Side.” The feel-good sports drama made an estimate $10,030,000 this weekend for a rough total so far of $164,734,000. Considering it’s $29 million budget and the possibility of a box office life-extending Best Actress nomination for Sandra Bullock, I’m guessing this has to wind up as one the year’s most profitable films, perhaps rivaled only by the sub-micro budgeted phenomenon, “Paranormal Activity,” and assorted mega-hits I don’t feel like mentioning/researching.

While Oscar-hopeful “Nine” was the week’s winner in terms of per screen average with $61,750 in four theaters (“Avatar” average of $21,147 was the second placer in per-screen), the week’s other major new release performed in predictably uninspiring fashion. Sony’s critically drubbed star-driven attempt at romantic comedy, “Did You Hear About the Morgans?,” dipped below its extremely modest expectations to earn an estimated $7 million, about  $1 million less than predicted — the snow again, I’m sure. Nevertheless, it appears that if people did hear the Morgans, they mostly decided to ignore them.

Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker in

  

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