That's one billion dollars, folks, with a B, a milestone reached by only four other movies. And only one of them -- Cameron's 1997 'Titanic' -- is likely to hold its position. 'Titanic' ended its run with $1.84 billion in sales, while the numbers posted by 'The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King' ( $1.13 billion), 'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest' ($1.06 billion) and last year's 'The Dark Knight' ($1.009 billion) will be passed by 'Avatar' in the next few weeks. In fact, 'Dead Man's Chest' and 'The Dark Knight' may have already moved down a spot.
According to Sunday estimates reported at Exhibitor Relations, Inc., 'Avatar' was on pace for a three-day New Year's weekend total of $68.3 million. That's $23 million more than 'Spider Man''s third weekend record of $45 million. Somebody needs to come up with a bigger word for this film than juggernaut.
Once again, 'Avatar' wasn't the only blockbuster with lines around the block. 'Sherlock Holmes' and 'Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel' are neck-and-neck for second place on the weekend chart. 'Holmes' has a $1.5 million lead in estimates, $38.4 million to 'Squeakuel''s $36.6 million, and the fourth and fifth place films -- 'It's Complicated' and 'The Blind Side' -- both did better than expected.
'It's Complicated' is taking in an estimated $18.7 million for the weekend and 'The Blind Side,' now its seventh week, is on pace for $12.7 million, which pushes its running total well beyond $200 million and makes its star, Sandra Bullock, the first above-the-title actress to earn that distinction.
Together, the 'Avatar'-led train of top 10 movies grossed about $212 million over New Year's weekend, enough to place it fifth on the all-time best weekends list.
Having set the record for the best third weekend, 'Avatar' seems likely to set new records for the fourth, fifth and maybe sixth weekends, as well. But then, it will likely fall behind 'Titanic,' which holds the current records for best fourth through 15th weekends. 'Slumdog Millionaire' interrupted that streak, claiming the record for the 16th weekend in release last February, but 'Titanic' still holds the records for 17th and 18th.
The reason analysts aren't predicting that 'Avatar' will eventually overtake 'Titanic' is because the tragic love story driving the earlier film made repeat-viewings mandatory for its lovestruck fans. The love story in 'Avatar' is a little too cool for that kind of devotion. Watching Sam Worthington's 10-foot-tall blue avatar canoodling with Zoe Saldana's 10-foot-tall blue Na'Vi just isn't the same as watching Leo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, in the flesh.
But where the needle will stop on 'Avatar' is anyone's guess. It is now certain to overtake 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen' as 2009's biggest hit and another $100 million in ticket sales will move it into the Top 5 all-time. Its ultimate fortunes may depend on how well it does with Academy Awards voters, whose nominations come out Feb. 2. It doesn't need the industry's validation, but the nominations and subsequent Oscars might draw a few million current holdouts into theaters to finally see what the fuss is all about.
Here are the estimates for the Top 10:
1. 'Avatar,' $68.3 million (3,461 theaters), $352.1 million total.
2. 'Sherlock Holmes,' $38.4 million, (3,626), $140.7 million.
3. 'Alvin and the Chipmunks,' $36.6 million, (3,747), $157.3 million.
4. 'It's Complicated,' $18.7 million, (2,897), $59.1 million.
5. 'The Blind Spot,' $12.7 million (2,926), $209.1 million.
6. 'Up in the Air,' $11.4 million (1,895), $45 million.
7. 'The Princess and the Frog' $10 million (3,328), $86.1 million.
8. 'Did You Hear About the Morgans?,' $5 million (2,718), $25.5 million.
9. 'Nine,' $4.3 million, (1,412), $14. 1 million.
10. 'Invictus,' $4.1 million, (2,160), $30.8 million.