During an interview with 'Today' show host Matt Lauer this week, Denzel Washington revealed that he has nearly finished his third complete reading of the New Testament.

I don't know if that's the version of the Bible he's carrying in his new film, 'The Book of Eli,' but it will take a miracle of Biblical proportions for 'Eli' to knock 'Avatar' out of the No. 1 spot on the weekend box office chart.

That is not to cast aspersions on Washington. The man is a certified movie star, an actor whose name above a movie's title guarantees a big opening weekend. Over the past decade, Washington's wide-opening pictures have averaged $23.9 million over their first three days. The best weekend was for 2007's 'American Gangster,' which opened to a whopping $43.6 million, and the lowest was $16.2 million for 2003's 'Out of Time.' During an interview with 'Today' show host Matt Lauer this week, Denzel Washington revealed that he has nearly finished his third complete reading of the New Testament.

I don't know if that's the version of the Bible he's carrying in his new film, 'The Book of Eli,' but it will take a miracle of Biblical proportions for 'Eli' to knock 'Avatar' out of the No. 1 spot on the weekend box office chart.

That is not to cast aspersions on Washington. The man is a certified movie star, an actor whose name above a movie's title guarantees a big opening weekend. Over the past decade, Washington's wide-opening pictures have averaged $23.9 million over their first three days. The best weekend was for 2007's 'American Gangster,' which opened to a whopping $43.6 million, and the lowest was $16.2 million for 2003's 'Out of Time.'

It will take an 'American Gangster'-size weekend for 'The Book of Eli' to eclipse the ticket sales for 'Avatar,' which is on its way to being the first movie since 1999's 'The Sixth Sense' to reign atop the box office chart for five straight weeks. Back then, 'The Sixth Sense' lost steam over its sixth weekend, losing the top spot to the dreadful horror movie 'Stigmata.'

'The Book of Eli,' whose early reviews have not been kind, is the fourth post-apocalypse movie over the last year, following a hit, a near-hit and a bomb. The hit was '2012,' which had a monstrous $65.2 million opening weekend and a $165.1 million total gross. The near-hit was 'Knowing,' a Nicolas Cage thriller that took in $24.6 million during its opening weekend and finished its run with an $80 million gross.

Jeff Hillcoat's 'The Road,' adapted from Cormac McCarthy's best seller, was the best-reviewed of the three but was given a meek limited release by the Weinstein Co. and has grossed just $7.4 million.

In 'The Book of Eli,' Washington does what his fans most enjoy seeing him do -- hide a vicious killer behind the cool facade of a man in complete charge of himself and every situation he's in. The X- factor here is that the movie is driven by the premise that the Bible represents the sole salvation of man, even on a decimated planet, and that may either broaden or narrow its appeal.

Confusing the issue more is the fact that Warner Bros. is opening the movie in the middle of January, a wasteland where good movies seldom flourish. 'Eli' is definitely no 'American Gangster' in its appeal, but it figures to at least match the average opening business for a Washington movie and probably a lot more. I expect it to do from $25 million to $30 million.

That won't be enough to top 'Avatar,' which figures to end its fifth weekend with more than $40 million in additional ticket sales, which will put its five-week total at close to $500 million.

So, if 'Eli' doesn't do it, what coming picture will displace 'Avatar' at No. 1? It will not be the this weekend's other new release, the Jackie Chan action-comedy 'The Spy Next Door,' or Peter Jackson's 'The Lovely Bones,' which goes wide after five weeks in limited release.

Chan is a popular guy, but at 56, is a little old to excel at the kind of stunts he's known for, and the only break-out hits he's had were shared with co-star Chris Tucker in the 'Rush Hour' movies. And 'The Lovely Bones,' a ghost-thriller adapted from Alice Sebold's novel, will not overcome its dismal reviews.

Looking at the release schedule for the weekend of Jan. 22-24, it seems that 'Avatar' has a good shot at making it six weeks in a row. 'Extraordinary Measures,' starring Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser, is the kind of medical drama that needs fabulous reviews to get off to a good start and the trailer for it makes those reviews seem unlikely.

'The Tooth Fairy' is a comedy/fantasy starring Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson as a hockey player whose penchant for extracting rival players' molars gets him a magical opportunity to become the 'real' Tooth Fairy and save the Tooth Fairy's Kingdom. 'Nuff said.

That weekend's third wide release is'Legion,' a supernatural thriller about an angel who descends into a diner to help save a band of humans from God's wrath, or something like that.

Looking ahead even farther, after 'Avatar' has scored a rash of Oscar nominations on Feb. 3, it seems possible that James Cameron's epic may reign atop the box office until the arrival on Feb. 12 of 'The Wolfman.' This update of the classic 1941 movie starring Lon Chaney Jr. as the bitten one stars Benicio del Toro in the title role with Anthony Hopkins taking over for Claude Rains as Sir John Talbot.

By then, we'll be ready for -- shall I say it? -- some fresh blood.