"Avatar" leads box office, despite blizzard

Sun Dec 20, 2009 4:55pm EST
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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Titanic" director James Cameron's "Avatar," a 3-D extravaganza hyped as a giant leap in cinematic prowess, ruled the worldwide box office during its first weekend even as North American sales were hit by an enormous snow storm, its distributor said on Sunday.

The film -- one of the most expensive ever made -- earned an estimated $232.2 million from North America and 106 foreign markets, according to News Corp's 20th Century Fox, provisionally the ninth-biggest opening of all time.

Moviegoers in the United States and Canada chipped in $73 million, far short of enthusiastic forecasts in the $85 million range. Top contributors to the $159.2 million foreign total included Russia ($21 million), France ($19 million) and the U.K. ($14.2 million).

"Avatar" edged ahead of 2006's "The Da Vinci Code" ($232.1 million) among worldwide openings, while the disaster picture "2012" slipped to No. 11 with $230.5 million. If the number is confirmed when final data are issued on Monday, "Avatar" will set a new opening record for a nonsequel.

The record for a worldwide opening is $394 million, set in July by "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." The "Avatar" opening also fell far short of the $275 million opening for "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" last month.


"Avatar" garnered almost as much attention for its reported budget of at least $300 million as for its eco-friendly tale of a disabled ex-Marine sent from Earth to infiltrate an alien race of 10-foot (3 meter)-tall blue people in order to save his polluted planet. Inter-species romance ensues between computerized characters representing actors Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana.

It marks Cameron's first dramatic feature since 1997's "Titanic," the biggest film of all time before accounting for inflation. He spent the intervening years waiting for moviemaking technology to catch up with his vision for the follow-up. Production took two years.

His new film won breathless reviews from critics. "You've never experienced anything like it, and neither has anyone else," said the Los Angeles Times.   Continued...