‘Avatar’ awakens January B.O. with $48.5 million

Sci-fi epic hits $1.34 billion worldwide in fourth frame.

“Avatar’s” first post-holiday weekend was a test of its potential to pass “Titanic” and become the top-grossing film of all time — and the results are optimistic.

With just okay showings by new pics and strong holdovers, 20th Century Fox’s James Cameron blockbuster held on to the No. 1 spot.

It grossed $143 million in its fourth sesh overseas — up 4.5% from the previous weekend — for a foreign total of $906.2 million. Domestically, the film dipped just 29% to $48.5 million for a cume of $429 million and worldwide tally of $1.34 billion, $460 million shy of Cameron’s “Titanic” ($1.8 billion).

Box office observers knew “Avatar” would do well, but its performance beat all expectations.

“We thought we would do $100 million overseas, but we really didn’t know, because we’re outside of holidays and kids are back in school,” Fox co-prexy of international distribution Paul Hanneman said.

Among the new domestic players, Lionsgate’s horror-actioner “Daybreakers” was the only one that turned in a strong performance, grossing an estimated $15 million from 2,523 runs.

Universal’s broad romantic comedy “Leap Year” and Dimension Films’ Michael Cera laffer “Youth in Revolt” were both soft.

“Leap Year,” starring Amy Adams and Matthew Goode, grossed an estimated $9.2 million from 2,511 runs to come in No. 6 behind U’s other femme-driven comedy, “It’s Complicated.”

Placing No. 9, “Youth in Revolt” grossed an estimated $7 million from 1,873 locations.

Holdovers continued to dominate, with Warner Bros.’ “Sherlock Holmes” at No. 2 and Fox’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” at No. 3 at the domestic B.O.

“Sherlock” declined 55% in its third frame to an estimated $16.6 million from 3,626 for a domestic total of $165.2 million.

Overseas, the Robert Downey Jr. topliner grossed another $25.7 million from 5,300 playdates in 44 territories, beating “Squeakquel,” and notching up a foreign cume of $130 million. Global cume is $295.2 million.

“Squeakquel” declined 54% domestically to an estimated $16.3 million for a domestic total of $178.2 million in its third outing. Kidpic grossed $22 million at the foreign B.O. from 6,226 screens in 57 markets for a cume of $136.3 million. Worldwide tally is $314.5 million.

“It’s Complicated” fell 41% domestically to an estimated $11 million from 2,955 for a cume of $76.4 million.

The domestic B.O. continued its winning streak, scoring the best showing ever for the first weekend of the new year (New Year’s weekend is historically lumped in with the previous year).

Paramount’s “Up in the Air” continued its solid expansion, grossing an estimated $7.1 million from 2,218 for a cume of $54.7 million in its sixth frame. Par and the distributors of other prestige titles will look to parlay wins at the Golden Globe ceremony next weekend into a box office bump.

That pack of pics includes a number of titles still playing in limited runs. Fox Searchlight’s Jeff Bridges starrer “Crazy Heart” picked up over the weekend, grossing an estimated $435,000 from 33 theaters for a per-location average of $13,182 and cume of $1.2 million in its fourth week.

But it’s been a tough haul for the specialty market: It was “Avatar” that posted the best per-theater average of the frame at $14,173 and not a limited release (“Avatar” played on 3,422 screens). And just like a prestige title, “Avatar” will benefit both at the domestic and foreign box offices if it wins a Golden Globe.

For the frame, “Avatar’s” performance at the foreign B.O. — where it played on 14,839 screens in 111 territories — was led by China, where it didn’t open until Jan. 4. Film grossed $40.2 million in its first seven days, the biggest opening week ever for a Hollywood title at the Chinese B.O. Saturday’s $8.3 million haul was the biggest single-day number ever.

France became the first territory to jump the $100 million mark. “Avatar” grossed an estimated $11.7 million for the sesh in Gaul, putting the cume at $100.5 million.

Other leading territories include Germany ($73.5 million), Russia ($69.5 million), U.K. ($66.8 million) and Spain ($60.2 million).

“Avatar” stayed at No. 1 in most territories, and drops were mild, even with the end of the holidays and brutally cold weather across Europe.

Fox international execs expect “Avatar” to jump the $1 billion mark internationally later this week and say “Titanic’s” $1.24 billion cume is now within reach. Domestically, “Titanic” cumed $600.7 million.

“Sherlock’s” strong foreign run was led by the U.K., where it grossed an estimated $3.2 million for a cume of $25 million. Pic opened in Brazil to $2.4 million from 316 playdates.

“Squeakquel’s” foreign total of $136.6 million is only $7 million behind the original “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” which cumed $143.3 million overseas. Domestically, first pic cumed $217.3 million, while the sequel has already earned $178.2 million.

While “Squeakquel” should finish ahead of the original “Alvin,” it may not be a landslide.

The January B.O. is a longtime favorite for genre pics such as “Daybreakers.” Directed by brothers Michael and Peter Spierig, film stars Ethan Hawke as a researcher in 2017 trying to find a cure for a plague that turns humans into vampires. Willem Dafoe also stars.

Lionsgate prexy of domestic distribution David Spitz said males made up 54% of the audience for “Daybreakers,” while 54% were under age 25. The R-rated pic drew a diverse crowd evenly split among Caucasians, Latinos and African-Americans.

“These directors have a cult following, and the film capitalized on the vampire craze but had more of a bite,” Spitz said.

The Spierig siblings also directed zombie pic “Undead” for Lionsgate.

Universal said it was pleased with the opening for “Leap Year,” which drew an audience that was nearly 80% female, while 54% were over age 30. Spyglass financed and produced “Leap Year,” while Relativity Media shared the marketing costs with U.

Film, which drew only a B CinemaScore, was likely hurt by poor reviews, since older demos have a greater tendency to rely on reviews than their younger counterparts.

Box office observers say “Daybreakers” could have taken a bite out of “Youth in Revolt” since both appealed to younger demos.

The Weinstein Co. also is struggling at the box office with Rob Marshall’s “Nine,” which fell off the top 10 chart this weekend. The musical started off strong in a limited run before Christmas but dipped when it expanded nationwide.

Distributors with other award contenders are sticking to the more traditional route — waiting to expand until after the Globes, although some may add runs on Friday. Pack includes “Crazy Heart,” Paramount/DreamWorks’ “The Lovely Bones,” Apparition’s “The Young Victoria” and several titles from Sony Pictures Classics, including “Broken Embraces,” “The White Ribbon” and “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.”

Among new specialty openers unspooling over the frame, Cinema Guild’s pastoral docu “Sweetgrass” grossed an estimated $10,403 as it unspooled in one theater in New York.

“Bitch Slap,” distributed by Freestyle, grossed an estimated $15,000 in its debut at three theaters for a location average of $5,000.

Also from Freestyle, Tim Allen-directed “Crazy on the Outside” fell flat in its debut, grossing an estimated $75,450 from 74 runs for a location average of $1,020. Allen also stars.

The Metropolitan Opera’s live, high-def theatrical program continued Saturday with the broadcast of Richard Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier.” Show, hosted by Placido Domingo and starring Renee Fleming, grossed $2 million from 650 screens. Opera also was carried live on 300 screens in 24 countries in Europe and seven territories in Latin America.

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