AvatarJames Cameron's 'Avatar' is not only beating the fourth-weekend box-office record of Cameron's earlier 'Titanic,' but it's beating it by nearly $25 million. Sunday estimates projected a fourth-weekend gross of $48.5 million for the current runaway hit. The record set by 'Titanic' in January of 1998 was $28.7 million. If the estimate stands, 'Avatar's' 24-day domestic total is now at $429 million.

But before we faint from the size of these numbers, it's time for a reality check, time to bring Cameron's Pandoran adventure back to Earth. The true measure of a movie's popularity is the number of tickets purchased -- aka "admissions" or "number of butts in seats" -- and at that, 'Avatar' is far, far from the top of the list.

First of all, 'Avatar's' reported ticket sales are skewed upward by the higher prices being charged for 3-D and 3-D IMAX showings. More important is a little thing called inflation. AvatarJames Cameron's 'Avatar' is not only beating the fourth-weekend box-office record of Cameron's earlier 'Titanic,' but it's beating it by nearly $25 million. Sunday estimates projected a fourth-weekend gross of $48.5 million for the current runaway hit. The record set by 'Titanic' in January of 1998 was $28.7 million. If the estimate stands, 'Avatar's' 24-day domestic total is now at $429 million.

But before we faint from the size of these numbers, it's time for a reality check, time to bring Cameron's Pandoran adventure back to Earth. The true measure of a movie's popularity is the number of tickets purchased -- aka "admissions" or "number of butts in seats" -- and at that, 'Avatar' is far, far from the top of the list.

First of all, 'Avatar's' reported ticket sales are skewed upward by the higher prices being charged for 3-D and 3-D IMAX showings. More important is a little thing called inflation.

Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in 'Gone With the Wind'When grosses are adjusted for inflation, 'Avatar' is not in the top 50 of all-time box office hits, and 'Titanic,' the official domestic box office champion with $601 million in ticket sales, only ranks sixth. The movie seen by the most people in theaters is still 'Gone With the Wind,' with an adjusted gross of $1.5 billion, followed by 'Star Wars,' 'The Sound of Music,' 'E.T' and 'The Ten Commandments.'

But back in the present of 2010, 'Avatar' is certainly the most dominant film in the market since, well, last year's 'The Dark Knight.' Unless 'Avatar' does unusually well over the next three days, it will not beat 'Knight's' record of 27 days for the fastest film to reach the $450 million sales mark.

The best performer among the three new wide releases was the vampire thriller 'Daybreakers,' which -- thanks to an unusually strong cast (Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe) for a January horror movie -- is on pace for a $15 million opening weekend. That's good enough for fourth place on the box office chart behind holdover hits 'Sherlock Holmes' ($16.6 million) and 'Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel' ($16.3 million).

The other newcomers, 'Leap Year' and 'Youth in Revolt,' are in sixth and ninth place with $9.2 million and $7 million in respective ticket sales.

Nancy Meyers' romantic comedy 'It's Complicated' finished fifth with $11 million, while seventh place 'The Blind Side' added another $7.5 million to its immense coffers. 'The Blind Side' has now grossed $219.2 million since its pre-Thanksgiving release. In fact, four of the movies in current release will end up past the $200 million mega-hit marker: 'Sherlock Holmes' is at $165.2 million and 'Alvin and the Chipmunks' at $179.2 million.

It doesn't appear that the Directors Guild of America nominations announced Thursday had much impact at the box office. 'Avatar' didn't need the nomination it received for Cameron, but Jason Reitman's 'Up in the Air' did. Yet, it didn't seem to help. Once the Oscar front-runner on most analysts' lists, the recession comedy about a man who makes his living firing people continued its sluggish run in theaters.

Given a limited release at Christmas and a wide release earlier this month, 'Up in the Air' has languished in the bottom five of the top 10 and is dropping. This weekend, it finished in eighth place with $7.1 million, and its per-theater average is just $3,201. Its cumulative total of $55 million is respectable, but given the positive reviews for the film and its rash of expected Oscar nominations, it's a disappointment.

The numbers for Jan. 8-10:

1. 'Avatar,' $48.5 million (3,422 theaters), $429 million total
2. 'Sherlock Holmes,' $16.6 million (3,626), $165.2 million
3. 'Alvin and the Chipmunks,' $16.3 million (3,641), $178.2 million
4. 'Daybreakers,' $15 million (2,523)
5. 'It's Complicated,' $11 million (2,955), $76.4 million
6. 'Leap Year,' $9.2 million (2,511)
7. 'The Blind Side,' $7.8 million (2,880), $219.2 million
8. 'Up in the Air,' $7.1 million (2,218), $55 million
9. 'Youth in Revolt,' $7 million (1,873)
10. 'The Princess and the Frog,' $4.7 million (2,620), $92.6 million