So, guess what’s topping the box office this weekend

Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana in Yes, the holiday weekend is barely half-way over and tonight’s Golden Globes could alter things slightly. Nevertheless, the Box Office Mojo’s weekend estimates are out and, don’t even bother to wait for it, Fox’s “Avatar” was once again the box office leader with a solid $41.3 million estimated take and a still very low drop of only 17.9% on its fifth go-round. Domestically, “Avatar” is already the #3 all-time moneymaker with a total of $491,767,000. Worldwide it has defeated, “The Return of the King” and is now #2 at just over $1.6 billion, just a couple billion shy of another movie you might have an opinion about, “Titanic.” James Cameron might have to buy an additional Malibu estate for his self-esteem to live in.

Just to keep us from falling completely asleep, however, there were some new members of the top 3 this week. The post apocalyptic actioner with a spiritual tint, Warner Brothers’ “The Book of Eli,” performed as per the expectations I described last time and has a current weekend estimate of roughly $31.6 million. That will definitely be happy news not only for star Denzel Washington but for directors Allen and Albert Hughes, whose last film, “From Hell” was not a box office success despite the presence of another big star, Johnny Depp. (Indeed, one of that film’s producers left the film business and has gone on to become one of the most powerful and annoying members of the left hand side of blogosphere, but that’s a story for another time and place.)

Denzel Washington in

As for the #3 spot…it’s not really a weekend if I don’t make an completely wrong predictive comment — when will I learn to keep my trap shut? Anyhow, the marketing strategy turning a critically dissed piece of Oscar bait into a film aimed at female tweens and teenagers has paid off with a very decent estimated third place showing of just over $17 million for “The Lovely Bones” and Paramount/Dreamworks. The film has been out in limited release for several weeks, but went into over 2,500 theaters and apparently the timing was correct.

A brand new wide release, “The Spy Next Door,” a frankly lame looking vehicle for Jackie Chan, did fairly unimpressive business for a wide release film on its opening weekend despite . It came in the #6 spot with an estimated $9.7 million for Lionsgate, which might be enough if the film’s budget is low enough. In other “cudda been worse” news, it’s 0% on the Tomatometer on Friday has blossomed to 9% with four critics failing to dislike it.

Michael Cera in Finally, the vampire role-reversal flick a la Monty Python’s “Bicycle Repairman” sketch, “Daybreakers,” which did rather well last week, suffered a huge 67% drop in its second time out, going from a $15 million last week to about $5 million this week. And, because I’m a nice guy, I’ll keep the word on “Youth in Revolt” to myself.

  

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Either “Avatar” takes the weekend box office, or we’re all in big trouble

Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana in

Variety has gone behind a pay wall. Jolly Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter is either taking a night off or filing later. Still, this is one week when, if I may paraphrase Bob Dylan, I don’t need a weatherman to tell me which way the wind’s blowing. As a science-fiction adventure sure-to-be blockbuster, James Cameron‘s “Avatar” has pretty much everything going for: huge ballyhoo, much of its centered on its groundbreaking use on “performance capture” (not mere motion capture) and what everyone seems to be describing as a new and more immersive 3-D, strong advance sales (skewing male as of right now), and solid reviews.  Sure, it’s actors aren’t precisely A-listers, but we all know what good stars are these days. I’m sure people will eventually remember that Sam  Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver were in there some place.

The latest from James Cameron at this point has racked up an 82% “fresh” on the Tomatometer and a whopping 96% from the usually harder to please “top critics,” with only Village Voice‘s exacting J. Hoberman submitting a mildly negative review that is actually about as positive as a bad review can be.

Our own Jamey Codding is positive, but not quite ecstatic. Ken Turan, a critic I respect but often disagree with for his rather schoolmarmish tastes — don’t get him started on Tarantino — waxes poetic and compares the technical breakthroughs to “The Jazz Singer.” I personally hope that isn’t quite the case. 3-D is cool as an occasional treat, but I just don’t see how it’s necessary for every movie. Of course, there were people who said that about sound movies too, but don’t laugh too much because there are still people who thought they were right! (Not me. Being a word guy, I like talkies. My fogeyosity has limits) In any case, Roger Ebert might be summing things up nicely when he writes:

There is still at least one man in Hollywood who knows how to spend $250 million, or was it $300 million, wisely.

Sam Worthington in So, we know that “Avatar” will, baring apocalypse or a mass, blindness-inducing plague, win the weekend. The real question is, by how much? Well, considering it’s opening in 3,453 theaters and probably taking up nearly every higher priced regular size and Imax 3-D screen in the country, I’d say the sky is the limit for the moment. Beyond that, I really don’t have the kind of information to make these kind of assertions, but fortunately there is Daniel Frankel of The Wrap who says that the gurus have agreed the Fox film will do over $60 million at least and possibly as much as $90 or $100 million.

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Tales of cinema survival

* Flicks are a tough business which frequently requires great sacrifice. Still, I can’t think of a single creative or suit whose had to saw off a limb to stay alive. However, that’s exactly what mountaineer Aron Ralston had to do and now director Danny Boyle plans to film Ralston’s story, perhaps or perhaps not with actor Ryan Gosling in the lead. Fun, fun, fun.

Cast Away

* Demon-plagued Katie and Micah of “Paranormal Activitylive (and hopefully have good agents). Also, those with a high tolerance for low humor will want to check out my friends, the Perry Boys, in “Perry-Normal Activity.”

* RIP comic actor, vaudevillian, and magician Carl Ballantine aka “The Great Ballantine, who survived very nicely until age 92.

* Roadside Attractions has picked up “The Joneses,” a comedic social satire with two career survivors, David Duchovny and Demi Moore.

* “The Tourist,” a remake of a 2005 French thriller little seen in the U.S. has lost Sam Worthington and the very good director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (“The Lives of Others.”) However, it lives to tell the tale as it’s gained Johnny Depp and, perhaps, and an even better director in Alfonso Cuaron (“Y Tu Mama Tambien,” “Children of Men“).

  

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