‘Avatar’ Defeats ‘Sherlock Holmes’ At Record-Breaking Holiday Box Office

James Cameron's science-fiction epic trumps Robert Downey Jr.'s debut as Britain's number-one sleuth.

The Box-Office Top Five

#1 [movie id="301495"]“Avatar”[/movie] ($75 million)
#2 [movie id="341168"]“Sherlock Holmes”[/movie] ($65.4 million)
#3 [movie id="391243"]“Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel”[/movie] ($50.2 million)
#4 [movie id="390765"]“It’s Complicated”[/movie] ($22.1 million)
#5 [movie id="391958"]“Up in the Air”[/movie] ($11.8 million)

Despite his brilliant deductive reasoning and combat proficiency, Sherlock Holmes proved no match for the Na’vi of Pandora as James Cameron’s “Avatar” won first place at the box office for the second weekend in a row. Still, victory wasn’t entirely effortless for the 3-D science-fiction epic, as “Avatar” surrendered Wednesday night to the debut of “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” and also succumbed to “Sherlock Holmes” on Friday.

But a closer look at the numbers reveals that “Avatar” never had much to worry about, as the film lost to “Alvin” on Wednesday by a mere $2.4 million and an even smaller margin of $1.4 million against “Sherlock” on Friday. Those leads proved too small for the 10-foot alien warriors of “Avatar,” which ultimately finished at first place with $75 million. The result was nearly $10 million more than “Sherlock” and $25 million more than “Alvin,” proving that even if Cameron’s latest isn’t the king of the world, it’s certainly the king of the box office right now.

Given current trends, “Avatar” should continue to enjoy plenty of success. The movie experienced a small 2.6 percent drop in ticket sales from last weekend’s $77 million total, dipping to a low of $11.3 million on Christmas Eve and a high of $28.5 million on Saturday. The total “Avatar” intake currently stands at $212.2 million domestically and $615.2 million worldwide. With yet another holiday weekend looming — without any new major releases, mind you — it’s very likely that “Avatar” will continue to top the competition.

Even though “Sherlock” and “Alvin” lost to “Avatar,” both films still performed very well at $65.4 million and $50.2 million, respectively. “It’s Complicated,” the weekend’s other newcomer starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, earned $22.1 million, a respectable outcome given the stiff competition. Meanwhile, Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air” expanded by nearly 2,000 theaters, resulting in a fifth-place finish worth $11.8 million. Even smaller releases performed admirably, with Heath Ledger’s final film, “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,” producing the weekend’s highest per-screen average of $32,500 across only four theaters.

But the most important result of the holiday weekend went far beyond any one movie. The combined efforts of “Avatar,” “Sherlock Holmes” and other competitors yielded not only the single best Christmas box-office performance of all time, but also the domestic box-office’s biggest weekend ever with an estimated $285 million total, trumping the $260 million opening weekend of “The Dark Knight” in July 2008. Clearly, Santa Claus had the film industry on his “nice list” this year.

Upcoming Releases

Another holiday weekend looms, this time without any new major releases to speak of. With the same competitors in the field, is it possible that the first weekend of 2010 will top the massive success of 2009′s final box-office battle?

Check out everything we’ve got on [movie id="301495"]“Avatar”[/movie] and [movie id="341168"]“Sherlock Holmes”[/movie].

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