It had to happen sometime. After Mel Gibson, Denzel Washington, Dwayne Johnson and a handful of other Hollywood heavyweights couldn’t take down “Avatar” at the box office, two rising stars stepped in to conquer Pandora: Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried of “Dear John.”
As we welcome a new film into the top weekend spot for the first time since mid-December, it’s worth taking a look back at the record-breaking reign of Cameron’s alien epic.
As a blizzard locked down much of the Northeast in an icy mess, “Avatar” got off to an impressive but not record-shattering start , collecting $77 million in its first three days in theaters after its December 18 release. It didn’t have much in the way of competition: The #2 slot went to holdover “The Princess and the Frog” and its $12 million haul. At this point, no one — not even James Cameron — thought “Avatar” would hold the #1 spot for another six weeks.
Despite the arrival of two significant rivals — “Sherlock Holmes” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” — “Avatar” dropped just 1.8 percent in B.O. dollars from its first weekend to its second, the 10th-smallest drop since 1982. Blockbusters can typically fall as much as 60 percent in their second weekend. With $212 million in total domestic business and another holiday weekend in front of it, “Avatar” was well positioned to continue its successful run.
Could “Avatar” beat out “Titanic” to become the all-time B.O. champ? It wasn’t until the new year that the topic was raised with any seriousness. The film’s third weekend suggested it might. Dropping only 9.7 percent, “Avatar” crossed the $350 million plateau, moving into second place on the 2009 list behind “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” With its premium IMAX and 3-D ticket prices, positive word of mouth and lack of serious theatrical competition throughout January, “Avatar” seemed at least guaranteed to challenge “Titanic,” if not overtake it.
Before the weekend even began, “Avatar” established itself as the #2 all-time record holder, with over $1.1 billion in worldwide sales. Its $50 million domestic weekend total again beat out “Sherlock” and “Chipmunks.” The closest opening-weekend competition came from “Daybreakers” with $15 million. After dropping 26 percent in weekend four, could it keep the fifth-weekend drop to a reasonable number?
The answer was yes. A drop of just 15 percent gave “Avatar” $43 million for a domestic total of $493 million. Not even a very respectable $33 million haul by Denzel Washington’s “The Book of Eli” stood a chance. When you factor in the Martin Luther King holiday, “Avatar” walked away with $54 million. Across the country, IMAX showings were still routinely selling out, and “Avatar” was poised to continue its B.O. dominance. By Sunday, it stood as the fourth-biggest movie domestically, fast on the heels of “The Dark Knight.”
For the second weekend in a row, “Avatar” dropped a smaller percentage than it had in weekend four, securing $35 million after an 18 percent drop. By comparison, “Titanic” pulled in $25 million in its sixth week of release (down 16 percent) for a total of $275 million. With $552 million in total domestic sales for “Avatar,” the question was not if it would unseat “Titanic,” but when.
The weekend had not even started before “Avatar” became the top worldwide B.O. earner with $1.858 billion. Come Friday, it had no problem dispatching Mel Gibson and “Edge of Darkness,” reeling in $31 million (dropping 11 percent). Days later “Avatar” dispatched “Titanic” to become the top domestic flick in history.
But the magic could only last for so long. Facing off against Channing Tatum — who won big at the box office last year with “G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra” — and “Dear John,” “Avatar” fell nearly 25 percent for a weekend total of $24 million. Finally, the country had a new #1.
Check out everything we’ve got on “Avatar.”
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