Okay, I think we can agree that “Avatar” is a success now

If anyone out there is still hoping for a publicly humbler James Cameron, maybe it’s time to set your sites elsewhere. Despite what you might have read on geek comment threads a few months back, the box office for “Avatar” is only going to bolster the filmmaker’s not entirely unearned overconfidence. Indeed, Cameron’s boot is likely to be mighty wet for a might long time with the pug-like slobber of worshipful suits. Nikki Finke, quoted a Fox executive, thusly:

“Mr. Cameron was king of the world but now has dominion over the universe. And he will own the top two slots on the worldwide all-time box office list!

Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana, enhanced, in

In its third weekend, “Avatar” raised an estimated $68.3 million, with an outlandishly small 9.7% drop from its take of $75.6 million last week, as calculated by Box Office Mojo. The cumulative domestic box office take for the ecological/human rights themed action fable is now roughly $352.1 million, which I suppose might be a complete recoup of the film’s budget and at least some of the marketing expenses.

That also means it’s already the 15th top grossing domestic film of all time, with an awful lot of commercial life left in it, as the film will almost certainly linger in theaters through Oscar time and beyond. It seems that there is every chance it will overtake the $533.3 million of “The Dark Knight” and I certainly wouldn’t rule out it taking the #1 spot from Cameron’s $600.78 million grossing “Titanic.”

Remember, that mega-melodrama was released in 1997, when the most anyone paid to see a movie was, if memory serves, maybe $7 or $8. I saw “Avatar” over the weekend at Hollywood’s top-of-the-line Arclight complex, where the ticket price on Friday night was $18.50. That’s unusually expensive, but only a few bucks more than a lot of folks are paying nationwide, particularly on Imax screens. Adjusted for inflation, no movie has yet to sell more tickets than the periodically re-released “Gone With the Wind, which was shrewdly withheld from TV screens until the mid-seventies.

But let’s also not forget the worldwide take. It’s where things get really exciting with a total just under $1.02 billion. That means “Avatar” is already the fourth top grossing international film of all time. I think it’s fair to say Cameron has not only impressed viewers with his mastery of some very cool technology, he might have hit something in the zeitgeist right about now. It’s just a shame he couldn’t have brought in another writer, like his old Roger Corman cohort, John Sayles, to get rid of some of the truly awful expositional dialogue and sharpen and clarify the conflicts. Of course, to Fox, that’s just one less person to pay.

Robert Downey, Jr. and Rachel McAdams in Lest we forget, the #2 film the weekend was, also for the second week in a row, “Sherlock Holmes.”  This time it racked up just under an estimated $38.4 for a rough total for $157.3 million for the lavish action-flick variation on the venerable Victorian detective. The film had a 38% percent drop from last week, which by most standards is fairly good. It’s another nice payday for Warners, the studio which has earned the most money of any studio, two years running.

About those decreases, however, I should note that the rules are  apparently somewhat different this holiday period and no one’s dropping all that much. Indeed, the strong third place shower, “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel,” dropped only a very modest 25% to earn a very healthy $36.6 million in its second weekend.

At the other end of the age scale, the AARP-leaning rom-com, “It’s Complicated,” held very well, dropping a mere 15.4% to earn an estimated $18.7 million for Universal, which can really use all the help it can bet. Several films lower down the list actually grossed more this week than last.

No such luck, however, for the season’s definitive disappointment, “Nine,” which dropped 22% in its second week to earn roughly $14 million. Ordinarily, that actually wouldn’t be a bad showing at all but, in this climate and considering the film’s $80 million production budget, it’s not looking too good for the musical from The Weinstein Company.

As for limited releases, we have one interesting development to report. It’s not even being tracked by Box Office Mojo, but, according to Nikki Finke, the top grossing limited release film (and I’m guessing actually the #11 movie this week) is India’s “3 Idiots.” The Bollywood collegiate musical-comedy earned an impressive $1.5 million on its second week in only 119 theaters. Considering it’s audience is comprised fairly exclusively of South-Asian Americans (about 2 million people, total) and a few musical-friendly hardcore cinephiles (I think there are fifteen of us), that’s something to sing and dance about.

  

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