Best opening day for a Fox film outside of summer

Opening 12 years, almost to the day, after his behemoth film “Titanic,” James Cameron’s 3D sci-fi spectacle “Avatar” drew a strong $27 million in its first day at the box office from 3,452 theaters.

First day for “Avatar” is the highest for a Twentieth Century Fox release opening outside the summer frame. Previous champ was 2006’s “Ice Age: The Meltdown” which took in $21.8 million.

Among all Friday December openings, “Avatar” ranks behind Will Smith’s 2007 sci-fi tentpole “I Am Legend” which grossed $30.1 million. 2003’s “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” continues to own the all-time opening day record in December with $34.5 million, however, that film unspooled on a Wednesday.

It’s quite possible that the east coast winter storms cut into the opening day figure for “Avatar.” However, much like Cameron’s “Titanic,” “Avatar” is bound to sprout a fantastic set of legs based on word of mouth — a huge asset heading into the Christmas holiday, which falls on Friday. Immediately evident: the exit polls for “Avatar,” both stateside and abroad, have been truly fantastic.

When “Titanic” was released on Dec. 19, 1997, it posted a first day gross of $8.7 million and an opening weekend of $28.6 million — figures which were respectable, but far from being records. However, with Christmas falling on a Saturday in 1997, “Titanic” saw boffo gains of 40% on its second Friday and 24% for its second weekend. “Titanic” finaled its domestic tally at $600.8 million.

The box office champ in terms of opening records back in 1997 was Steven Spielberg’s “The Lost World: Jurassic Park,” which bowed over the Memorial Day frame that year with a first day record of $21.6 million and a three-day haul of $72.1 million according to Rentrak Theatrical.

Coming in second on Friday was Disney’s hand-drawn animated toon “The Princess and the Frog” which generated $3.4 million at 3,475, down 52% in its second Friday of wide release. Since bowing four weeks ago, “Princess” has accumulated an estimated domestic gross of $35.9 million.

Staying tough in third was Sandra Bullock’s football drama “The Blind Side” which counted $3.2 million at 3,407 in its fifth Friday, down 33% with a domestic B.O. of $157.9 million.

Vying to counterprogram “Avatar,” Sony’s new comedy this weekend “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” with Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker collected an estimated $2.4 million from 2,718 in fourth.

Summit Entertainment’s “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” slotted fifth with $1.4 million from 3,035, repping a 43% decline and a running domestic tally of $271.6 million.

Award hopefuls surface at the multiplex

Following an active week of kudo headlines, a trio of award-contending pics dipped their toes in at the multiplex.

Rob Marshall’s second feature musical pic “Nine” from the Weinstein Co. debuted in four Los Angeles and Gotham venues, kicking up a respectable $86,000 for a per theater of $21,538. That figure is in level with the exclusive opening of 2006’s “Dreamgirls” which drew $87,000 off three sites on its first day and a weekend of $378,950. To date, “Nine” has reaped 17 overall noms from the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild and Broadcast Film Critics Association. Marshall’s first feature musical, 2002’s “Chicago” generated $685,000 on its first day, however, that pic was in play at 77 locales.

Apparition’s “Young Victoria” which has earned a Golden Globe and Broadcast Film Critics nod for Emily Blunt’s performance as best actress counted $71,000 from 44 sites for a per theater average of $1,615.

Fox Searchlight’s “Crazy Heart” starring Jeff Bridges minted $22,000 off four sites for a per theater of $5,503. Bridges has been lauded with best actor noms from the Golden Globes, SAG, Independent Spirit Awards and Broadcast Film Critics. Already the thesp has collected a trophy from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.

Jason Reitman’s drama-edy “Up in the Air” from Paramount — which also touts 17 nods collectively from the Golden Globes, SAG awards and Broadcast Film Critics — continued to raise its domestic cume to greater altitudes in limited release. Ranking eighth in its third Friday, “Air” posted $927,000 at 175 playdates for a per site of $5,295 and a running domestic B.O. of close to $6 million. Pic surged 41% from a week ago after expanding from 72 to 175 locations.

In the onset of its second sesh, “A Single Man” from Weinstein Co. dipped 38% on nine for a day’s take of $39,000 and a running B.O. of $371,350. “Man” totals 11 noms overall from the Independent Spirit Awards, SAG Awards, Golden Globes and Broadcast Film Critics.

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