‘Avatar’ passes ‘Dark Knight’ at box office

Fox claims three of the frame's top 10 slots

Topping the frame with an estimated weekend gross of $36 million for a cume of $552.8 million, 20th Century Fox and James Cameron’s “Avatar” has jumped past Warner Bros.’ “The Dark Knight” with $533.3 million to become the second highest grossing film ever at the domestic box office.

Still behind “Titanic” in U.S. totals, “Avatar” made history overseas.

Pic earned $107 million from 11,803 screens in 111 markets at the foreign B.O., just enough to sink the ship, making “Avatar” the all-time champ in international receipts with $1.28 billion. Cameron’s “Titanic” previously held the overseas record with $1.24 billion.

“Having been a part of the ‘Titanic’ phenomenon, we never thought this day would come in our careers,” said Fox Intl. co-prexys Paul Hanneman and Tomas Jegeus. “But James Cameron created in ‘Avatar’ a film with such humanity and magic that it resonates with people of every culture.”

“Avatar’s” worldwide cume stands at $1.84 billion.

Domestically, the film slipped a mere 16% in its sixth frame with $9.1 million on Friday, $16.5 million on Saturday — down just 5% from the same day last weekend — and an estimated $10.4 million on Sunday.

Cameron’s 3D pic grossed $6.6 million from IMAX screens, representing approximately 19% of the film’s overall domestic take.

“It’s one thing to have this technological marvel, but beyond that, I think it connects with people on so many different levels,” said Fox senior VP of domestic distribution Chris Aronson. Along with “Avatar,” Fox managed to claim three of the frame’s top 10 slots with Dwayne Johnson starrer “Tooth Fairy” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.”

Overall, domestic B.O. receipts saw a 6% uptick compared to the same weekend last year.

Sony’s post-apocalyptic “Legion” launched at No. 2 with $18.2 million from 2,476 locations for a per screen average of $7,351. Warner Bros.’ holdover “Book of Eli,” financed and produced by Alcon Entertainment, dropped 48% in its soph sesh with $17 million from 3,111 locations, pushing the pic’s cume to $62 million.

Family pic “Tooth Fairy,” co-produced by Walden Media, earned $14.5 million from 3,344 locations, while holdover “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” brought in $6.5 million from 2,973 in its fifth frame for $204.2 million overall.

On the specialty front, Fox Searchlight’s “Crazy Heart” continues to benefit from awards season, scoring the weekend’s best per-screen average of $15,323.

CBS Film’s inaugural release “Extraordinary Measures” opened to a disappointing $7 million at 2,549.

Though CBS said it still has high hopes for “Measures,” especially given strong exit polls and an A- CinemaScore rating, studio may be facing an uphill battle. As expected, pic played best in the midwest, especially among older women, but underperformed on the east coast.

Warner Bros. also helped boost a healthy frame, adding to the mix holdovers “Book,” “Sherlock Holmes” and “The Blind Side.”

“Sherlock Holmes” fell 28% in its fifth frame for an estimated weekend gross of $7.1 million, while “The Blind Side” continued to attract auds, slipping only 19% in its tenth frame with $4.5 million for a total $234 million.

Paramount’s “The Lovely Bones” declined 48% in its seventh frame but managed $8.8 million from 2,571 locations. Added to a solid wide expansion last weekend of $17 million, pic has cumed $31.6 million.

Sony Pictures Classics’ historical drama “The Last Station” earned $110,344 at eight locations for the frame’s second-highest per-screen average with $13,793.

At the specialty B.O., Samuel Goldwyn launched its high-school sports drama “To Save a Life” at 441 screens, grossing $1.5 million for a projected per screen average of $3,400. Pic is the latest faith-based release from the same distrib as “Fireproof” and “Facing the Giants.”

“Crazy Heart” earned an estimated $1.4 million from 93 engagements for a total $3.9 million.

Searchlight hopes to benefit from possible Oscar nominations, including for star Jeff Bridges. Bridges earned actor honors at the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild for his performance as a boozy country musician.

“Crazy Heart” will continue a slow rollout until the first weekend in February when it expands to 750 engagements.

Overseas, “Avatar” topped nearly every major market, including Germany, France and China, despite losing 1,500 2D screens in that territory.

The film also has scored over the $100 million mark overseas for six straight weeks.

“Avatar’s” record-breaking performance was highlighted by solid showings for “Up in the Air” and “Sherlock Holmes.”

“Sherlock” grossed an estimated $17.1 million from 5,048 screens in 55 markets for a cume of $196.5 million. Key holdovers included Spain where the film earned $3.2 million behind “Avatar’s” $5.7 million for the weekend.

Par’s “Up in the Air” grossed $11 million from 2,117 locations in 26 territories, lifting the foreign cume to $19.5 million. Pic launched in 17 new territories, including a strong bow in Spain with $1.8 million and Italy with $1.7 million.

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