Gibson return 'Edge of Darkness' strong at No. 2

Entering its seventh frame at the domestic box office, 20th Century Fox’s “Avatar” again proved its staying power, taking in an estimated $30 million. James Cameron’s pic easily surpassed the No. 2 film, Warner Bros.’ Mel Gibson starrer “Edge of Darkness,” which opened with $17.1 million.

“Avatar’s” domestic intake has reached $594.5 million, combined with $1.45 billion internationally, for a worldwide cume that has passed the $2 billion mark.

Last weekend, the film passed “Titanic” in foreign revenues. “Avatar” became the all-time highest grosser worldwide as of Jan. 25, leaving only the domestic figure to beat. Cameron’s 3D phenom still remains just a few strokes behind the $600.8 million domestic benchmark set by “Titanic” in 1998, but given last week’s daily average of $3.18 million, Fox said the pic should beat “Titanic” some time midweek.

Disney saw a solid opening for its first release of the year, romantic comedy “When in Rome,” which took an estimated $12 million at 2,456 locations for a per-screen average of $4,912. Launch saw a 20% uptick from Friday to Saturday with an aud heavily populated by couples, totaling 61%, with only a slight variation among different age groups; auds 18-25 ranked highest with 24%.

CBS Films’ “Extraordinary Measures” failed to gain traction after a disappointing bow last weekend. Pic earned a meager $2.6 million at 2,549 screens in its soph sesh, dropping 57% from a $6 million launch.

“The Lovely Bones” continues to perform solidly for Paramount after opening in a lukewarm limited release, grossing an estimated $4.7 million at 2,638 locations behind Sony’s “Legion,” which earned $6.8 million at 2,476. “Legion,” starring Paul Bettnay, fell 61% in its soph sesh after launching in the No. 2 spot last weekend with $17.5 million.

Both Fox and Warner were repped with three films in the top 10, including “Avatar” and “Darkness,” respectively.

In its soph sesh, Fox’s Dwayne Johnson starrer “Tooth Fairy” dropped 29%, earning $10 million at 3,345 to claim the No. 4 spot, followed by Warner’s “Book of Eli” with $8.8 million from 3,075 in its third frame.

“Sherlock Holmes,” “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” and “It’s Complicated” rounded out the top 10. Holdover “Holmes” performed well for Warner with an estimated weekend gross of $4.5 million and a cume just shy of the $200 million mark, while Fox’s “Squeakquel” earned $4 million for an overall $209.3 million.

“Darkness,” about a Boston police officer who discovers a corporate cover-up after investigating the death of his daughter, drew a surprising 47% female viewership. The R-rated Mel Gibson starrer scored a B+ CinemaScore rating in exit polls.

“You would assume that Mel would now have an older audience,” said Warner Bros. prexy of domestic distribution Dan Fellman. “But I think the audience was not only older, but broader.”

Despite widespread appeal for “Darkness,” moviegoers still flocked to “Avatar,” which slipped a mere 14% from last weekend.

Pic screened at 3,074 locations for a per-screen average of $9,759. Imax totals accounted for 21% of its overall domestic intake on 179 screens with $6 million.

Fox senior VP of domestic distribution Chris Aronson said of the pic’s reign at the top of the charts, “Like everything else about this movie, it defies all speculation. I do believe there are still a lot of people who haven’t seen the film yet.”

“Avatar” is expected to dominate the technical categories at the Oscar noms Tuesday and is likely to see noms for picture and director as well.

The big question this year is to what degree the 10 noms for best picture will affect the box office, especially with so many potential nominees already released on DVD, including “The Hurt Locker” and “Inglourious Basterds.”

Fox Searchlight continues to position Jeff Bridges starrer “Crazy Heart” with kudos publicity in mind. Bridges has already been tapped for lead actor trophies at the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Pic earned $2.5 million in its seventh frame at 239 theaters for a per-screen average of $9,414.

Searchlight plans to expand “Crazy Heart” to some 800 theaters next weekend.

Sony Pictures Classics’ “The Last Station,” which has Oscar hopes for stars Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer, continues to perform well in limited release. Pic scored the highest screen average of $10,099, after being bested by “Crazy Heart” last weekend. “Station” earned $90,892 at nine locations.

Overseas, Disney’s hand-drawn toon “The Princess and the Frog” saw a healthy bow in France with an estimated $7.4 million, enough to possibly unseat the six-week reigning champ “Avatar.”

Disney toon earned an estimated $9.6 million at the international B.O. from 2,800 screens in 32 territories and will expand next weekend to Spain, Sweden and the U.K.

“Avatar” still topped the overseas box office with $95 million, slipping only 12% in its seventh frame. Notable markets included Japan, where the pic grossed $6.8 million for a 20% uptick, and Italy, topping the pic’s territories with $10.9 million.

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