U.S. moviegoers shattered box-office records as they crowded into multiplexes for a holiday weekend marked by high-profile films. The lavish science-fiction epic 'Avatar' led the way, selling $75 million in U.S. tickets and bringing its global tally to $617.3 million.
The estimated $278 million in weekend U.S. box-office revenue broke the previous record of $260.8 million set in July 2008, the weekend 'The Dark Night' was released. In addition to 'Avatar,' this weekend included the release of 'Sherlock Holmes,' which brought in $65.4 million in the U.S.
For the year, the U.S. box-office total now stands at $10.5 billion, according to Hollywood.com, a record gross that nonetheless will do little to solve the movie studios' bigger underlying problems, particularly rapidly eroding DVD sales.
'Avatar' was a complicated movie to sell to the public, with a high-concept premise and novel 3-D filmmaking technology that could have been difficult to convey to audiences solely through trailers and other traditional marketing. Twentieth Century Fox, the studio behind the film, was counting on critics and strong word-of-mouth buzz to draw in moviegoers.
Reviews have been positive. With the film's domestic gross in its second weekend down only 3% from its opening weekend, studio executives said audiences were similarly impressed.
The movie, set about 150 years in the future, follows a former Marine who travels to a distant world inhabited by exotic creatures. The film was directed by James Cameron whose previous feature film 'Titanic' earned $1.8 billion in 1997 and 1998.
'Avatar' cost in excess of $300 million to produce, 60% of which was picked up by financial partners of Fox. The studio spent an estimated $150 million more on marketing. Twentieth Century Fox is owned by News Corp., which also publishes The Wall Street Journal.
Helping propel the gross for 'Avatar' was the movie's performance at large-screen Imax locations. Theaters generally charge 25% to 50% more for movies shown in Imax than those on regular-sized screens.
Imax locations have generated over $39 million in 'Avatar' sales so far, said Greg Foster, Imax Corp.'s chairman and president for filmed entertainment. By way of comparison, he said it took 'The Dark Knight' six weeks to sell $45 million worth of tickets-a level he expects 'Avatar' to achieve after just 13 days in theaters.
Second in the U.S. box-office rankings was Warner Bros.' 'Sherlock Holmes,' directed by Guy Ritchie and starring Robert Downey Jr. as a brawling version of the brainy Victorian detective. In third place was another Fox release, 'Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel,' which took in $50.2 million.
U.S. moviegoers have bought 1.41 billion tickets so far this year, almost 5% more than 2008 but still below the record of 1.61 billion that was set in 2002.