Avatar blasts off to No. 1 spot

James Cameron launched his science-fiction epic Avatar into a safe orbit as the costly film soared to No. 1 with $73 million domestically and $159.2 million overseas, for a $232.2 million worldwide total.

LOS ANGELES — James Cameron launched his science-fiction epic Avatar into a safe orbit as the costly film soared to No. 1 with $73 million domestically and $159.2 million overseas, for a $232.2 million worldwide total.

With that big a start, distributor 20th Century Fox was quick to proclaim it made a good investment with the estimated $400 million spent to make and market the film, which is Cameron’s first narrative feature since 1997’s Titanic, the king of modern blockbusters.

“Absolutely. No question,” said Chris Aronson, head of distribution for the studio, which reported stellar reaction in exit polls from audiences after seeing Avatar.

“The word of mouth is something that I don’t know I’ve ever seen in this business before.”

“Avatar” was a test case for the future of digital 3-D projection, which until now has been a hit with audiences mainly on animated family films.

The film fell short of the record for December debuts of $77.2 million set two years ago by Will Smith’s I Am Legend.

But it did break the record for a film opening in 3-D, previously held by last summer’s Up with $68.1 million.

“What they spent on this movie was totally justified, and they’re going to more than earn it back,” said Paul Dergarabedian, box-office analyst for Hollywood.com.

Avatar stars Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana in a love story amid human-alien conflict on a distant moon in the 22nd century.

Storms on the East Coast kept many people at home, cutting into weekend movie business.

The overall box office shot up on the strength of Avatar.

Hollywood’s domestic revenues came in at $134 million, up 51.5 per cent from the same weekend last year, when Yes Man opened at No. 1 with $18.3 million, according to Hollywood.com.

The previous weekend’s No. 1 movie, Disney’s animated musical The Princess and the Frog, slipped to second place with $12.2 million, raising its total to $44.8 million.

No one expects Avatar to be another Titanic, which started with a modest $28.6 million opening weekend domestically but held on at No. 1 for months.

The film finished with a record $600 million domestically and $1.8 billion worldwide.

Unlike other Hollywood franchises, which usually are based on comic books, TV shows, toys or other existing stories and ideas, Avatar was an original tale whose concept was not pre-sold to audiences.

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theatres, according to Hollywood.com.

Final figures will be released today.

1. Avatar, $73 million.

2. The Princess and the Frog, $12.2 million.

3. The Blind Side, $10 million.

4. Did You Hear About the Morgans?, $7 million.

5. The Twilight Saga New Moon, $4.4 million.

6. Invictus, $4.2 million.

7. Disney’s a Christmas Carol, $3.4 million.

8. Up in the Air, $3.1 million.

9. Brothers, $2.6 million.

10. Old Dogs, $2.3 million.

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