The first full week before Christmas, when people are busy finishing their shopping, is traditionally slow at movie theaters.

But juggernauts are hard to slow down anytime and in the realm of juggernauts, James Cameron's 'Avatar' may the biggest since his 1997 Oscar-winner 'Titanic.' That film set the reigning domestic ($600.1 million) and worldwide ($1.8 billion) box office records and his follow-up is the most anticipated film in years. The first full week before Christmas, when people are busy finishing their shopping, is traditionally slow at movie theaters.

But juggernauts are hard to slow down anytime and in the realm of juggernauts, James Cameron's 'Avatar' may the biggest since his 1997 Oscar-winner 'Titanic.' That film set the reigning domestic ($600.1 million) and worldwide ($1.8 billion) box office records and his follow-up is the most anticipated film in years.

'Avatar,' made for a cost somewhere north of $275 million, is a science-fiction adventure shot with breakthrough technology -- in particular, 3D technology -- that has critics raving about it as soon as they get their jaws back together. If it isn't destined to knock 'Titanic' out of the record books, it is bound to become 2009's biggest nonsummer release -- yep, bigger than 'New Moon' and 'The Blind Side' -- and it may hang around the top of the charts until past Oscar-time in March.

Whether the timing is right for a broad-audience action film like 'Avatar,' we'll see. Cameron and Paramount Pictures were criticized for going with a Christmas release strategy on 'Titanic' and lived to boast about it. Considering what it eventually made, 'Titanic' had a modest $28.7 million opening weekend, a number that 'Avatar' might triple by Sunday night. In fact, recession and all, 'Avatar's' three-day opening total could top December record-holder 'I Am Legend's' $77.2 million. My prediction for 'Avatar': $80 million.

The weekend's other wide release, the romantic comedy 'Did You Hear About the Morgans?' opens in 2,700 theaters and the casting match-up of Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker looks like good counter-programming to 'Avatar' and Disney's animated hit 'The Princess and the Frog.' Those two films will fight it out for second place, each likely to take in around $15 million in ticket sales.

Best actress nominations from both the Screen Actors Guild and the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. (Golden Globes) for Sandra Bullock gives a boost to the month-old 'The Blind Side.' The nods won't be enough to keep the inspirational sports drama from falling a couple of spots on the chart, but it will still have a strong fifth weekend of about $12 million.

Clint Eastwood's 'Invictus' got a handful of Golden Globe nominations, including two for stars Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon and a directing nomination for Eastwood. But it missed out on a best picture nomination and its disappointing opening weekend ($9.1 million) suggests a steep drop, to a second weekend of around $5.5. million. 'Disney's A Christmas Carol' loses most of its 3D screens to 'Avatar,' but it still offers shoppers and their children the most logical respite at the mall and ought to finish ahead of 'Invictus.'

Other holdovers -- 'Old Dogs,' 'New Moon,' 'Brothers'and '2012' -- should fill out the top 10.

Opening in platform or limited release are Rob Marshall's star-studded adaptation of the Broadway musical 'Nine,' the country singer drama 'Crazy Heart,' and the period costume drama 'Young Victoria.'. 'Nine' received five Globe nominations, including best musical, and its cast made the Screen Actors Guild ballot for best ensemble -- the actors' equivalent of a best picture award.

1. 'Avatar,' $80 million (3,300 theaters).
2. 'The Princess and the Frog,' $15- million-17 million (3,434).
3. 'Did You Hear About the Morgans?' $15 million-17 million (2,700).
4. 'The Blind Side,' $10 million (3,388).
5. 'Disney's A Christmas Carol,' $6 million (2,401).
6. 'Invictus,' $5.5 million (2,250).
7. 'New Moon,' $5 million (3,200)
8. 'Brothers,' $5 million (2,088).
9. 'Old Dogs,' $4 million (3,090).
10. '2012,' $3 million (2,500).




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