SUNDAY CENTS: Pandora’s tops

Posted by · 12:03 pm · December 20th, 2009

Avatar*All historical figures cited are adjusted to today’s dollars.

Alright, let’s get down to brass tacks. “Avatar” is the number one movie of the weekend with a $73 million gross. This is an enormous figure, there’s no two ways about it. It’s the fourth-biggest December debut of all time. It’s the 26th-biggest debut of all time for a non-sequel. It’s the ninth-biggest debut of all time for a film with no previous source material or built-in fanbase.

A record amount of money was spent on this production with only the reputation of James Cameron as a selling point and it may just pay off. A film like “I Am Legend” can debut in December with $80.6 million and with lukewarm reviews and word of mouth can make it all the way to a $264 million total. With the reception that “Avatar” has received and the inevitable batch of Oscar nominations, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t make $300 million domestically. It would need to match that overseas to even come close to profitability, but that should be no problem as the film already has $150 million in the bank overseas.

It’s no secret that I thought the film looked stupid. I also would love nothing more than to never have to hear about 3D in movies again. But I also know that any time a film with an original screenplay from a distinct filmmaker can earn this type of money, it’s a good thing for the industry.

Sony’s attempt at counter-programming, “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” was an epic fail to the tune of $7 million. Even with fantastic December legs, you’re looking at a $45 million total and only a lifetime of reruns on TNT to look forward to. Incidentally, this film has been made once before with Tim Allen and Kirstie Alley as “For Richer or Poorer” and even that debuted with $9.4 million in December 1997. If you can’t beat Tim Allen and Kirstie Alley, it’s time to pack it in.

It was a rough week for almost all holdovers as “Avatar” clearly sucked out all the life in the marketplace. “The Princess and the Frog” fell 50% and “Invictus” crashed 52%. Only “The Blind Side” showed any kind of durability by falling 33% and taking its total past $164 million. This Sandra Bullock getting an Oscar nomination thing isn’t going away so let’s all get used to it. Sorry to any female who gave a great performance in a good film. There’s just not enough room for you AND Sandra Bullock.

“Up in the Air” expanded to 175 screens and crashed the top 10 with $3.1 million. That’s an excellent per-theater average and you have to expect big things from this one through January. Clooney hasn’t had a movie without “Ocean” in the title gross more than $60 million since 2000, so a big total will be much more welcome than another golden statue.

“Nine” put in some strong numbers on four screens, earning $246,933 or $61,733 per theater. That’s nowhere near the figures that “Dreamgirls” or “Moulin Rouge!” started with in limited release, but it’s a solid start nonetheless.

“Crazy Heart” earned $20,551 per theater, which is less than half of what “The Wrestler” earned on the same number of screens during the same exact weekend last year.

Finally, “The Lovely Bones” dropped 65% from it’s already lukewarm start and looks in real trouble. Paramount would be wise to scrap the Oscar-bait approach and market it like a straight-up thriller for its wide January release and pretend this limited debut never happened.

This week I saw “The Princess and the Frog” and I thought it was wonderful. Not quite as top-drawer as “Beauty and the Beast” or “The Lion King” but highly entertaining nonetheless.

What about you?  Here are the weekend’s top domestic grossers, courtesy of Exhibitor Relations:

Weekend of Friday, December 18, 2009

→ 49 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Box Office · Sunday Cents

49 responses so far

  • 1 12-20-2009 at 12:27 pm

    Kevin said...

    And Chad STILL refuses to see it, despite EVERYONE telling him he’s wrong :) lol jk

  • 2 12-20-2009 at 12:28 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    im more curious about avatars legs then anything else, IMDB has AVATAR at number 25 which can only mean good things for the weeks to come

  • 3 12-20-2009 at 12:29 pm

    Rafael said...

    I went to see The Princess and the Frog for the second time and enjoyed it even more. I love this movie! Here in Brazil, at least in my town, the movie is a big hit, both times I went to see it, sold out. I wish more people were watching it in US. The movie deserves to be discovered.

  • 4 12-20-2009 at 12:32 pm

    Anonymous said...

    Chad, I felt the same way as you about Avatar when I saw the first trailers, and obviously, we both underestimated how much this thing was gonna make. Given how flat-out hostile some of comment-section debates got and how flat-out inaccurate you were in your predictions…maybe an apology is in order? Just saying…

  • 5 12-20-2009 at 12:32 pm

    Kevin said...

    I have a feeling that it will last a long time. Word of mouth is extremely good and it’s a rare instance of critical reception and popular reception being the same. It just may have that perfect storm going for it. :)

  • 6 12-20-2009 at 12:33 pm

    Rafael said...

    Avatar is big here too. Everybody is talking about it and people that usually don´t go to the movies want to see it.

  • 7 12-20-2009 at 12:34 pm

    Jim T said...

    Kevin, not everyone. I think he is wise.

  • 8 12-20-2009 at 12:36 pm

    Kevin said...

    I thnik it has something to do with it being a welcome relief from the usual oscar-fare that, despite my love for awards-season films, they are often depressing. Avatar represents escapism on a truly great level, where story matches spectacle. People are FAR more interested in something like Avatar this time of year than anything remotely depressing. And how can you blame them? With the economy and the holidays being the most prevalent things on people’s minds, who want’s to watch some deep contemplation and navel-gazing film about the human condition?

  • 9 12-20-2009 at 12:40 pm

    Adam Smith said...

    Plus, it made this kind of bank when most of the East Coast was stranded at home because of the snow storm. The next ten days will see all those folks making up for it by seeing it between tomorrow and next Sunday. Could Avatar beat Holmes next weekend?

  • 10 12-20-2009 at 12:42 pm

    Kevin said...

    I think it will probably top Sherlock Holmes next weekend. Not many people I’ve talked to really are aware of that movie.

  • 11 12-20-2009 at 12:44 pm

    adelutza said...

    I loved Avatar. And 3D on a huge IMAX screen only helped. Not sure why anybody says that 3D sucks. It might not be for every movie, but it w2as invented for Avatar, that I can say. Awesome entertainment!I wish I could go and live in Pandora , too, even if no bird would choose me :-)

  • 12 12-20-2009 at 12:52 pm

    Chris138 said...

    A bit off topic, but did anyone else hear about Brittany Murphy dying this morning from cardiac arrest? 32 years old. Sad.

  • 13 12-20-2009 at 12:57 pm

    Shelby said...

    A comparison of Avatar vs. District 9 would be pretty interesting at this point. Two successful “message” SF movies that take *completely* different routes to get there.

    Would someone at In Contention be willing to do a compare and contrast? That would be interesting reading.

  • 14 12-20-2009 at 1:03 pm

    Kevin said...

    @ Shelby

    Do you mean compare and contrast the content itself? Or the quality? Because I think a quality comparison is a moot point as it’s entirely subjective. But a comparison of content from a storytelling perspective would actually be an interesting read/write.

  • 15 12-20-2009 at 1:04 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Avatar should definitely beat Holmes next week. If it doesn’t, that’s very troubling for Fox and Cameron.

    Also, to anonymous- what should I apologize for? For thinking it looked bad? Sorry, but I still think it looks bad, no matter how many people say otherwise. And months ago I thought it would bomb but I changed my projections over time and actually thought it would make more than it did in my Friday column.

  • 16 12-20-2009 at 1:24 pm

    Loyal said...

    “Avatar should definitely beat Holmes next week. If it doesn’t, that’s very troubling for Fox and Cameron.”

    He’s already setting up a negative spin if Avatar only makes $50m and Sherlock breaks out.

    Oh Chad!

  • 17 12-20-2009 at 1:32 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Did The Hurt Locker go into a few more theaters this week?

  • 18 12-20-2009 at 1:35 pm

    The Dude said...

    It would have been interesting to see what box-office numbers would have popped up if that epic snowstorm hadn’t taken out the northeast. I have family in the Baltimore and Philadelphia areas, and they’ve said the snow was so high they couldn’t get out of their front doors to shovel the driveway. The fact that Avatar made as much money as it did with numerous metropolitan areas essentially out-of-commission is astounding.

    Too bad the holdovers didn’t fare as well…the snowstorm looks to have obliterated the grosses of anything that wasn’t Avatar.

  • 19 12-20-2009 at 1:47 pm

    ninja said...

    Holmes will take No.1 as expected (remember that it`s tracked better than Avatar) but Avatar should have minimal drops. Pretty much, it`s all about whether Avatar can pull off $53 mio second weekend or more to Holmes`s $80 mio weekend or more. If not than we can start talking about trouble. But $73 mio opening for a new property without built-in fanbase is mighty impressive.

  • 20 12-20-2009 at 1:50 pm

    Speaking English said...

    I saw “Avatar” and “Up in the Air,” and I simply had the best movie weekend of my life. Two excellent pieces of cinema that stand quite easily as two of the very best films of 2009.

  • 21 12-20-2009 at 2:00 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Kris- Summit stopped reporting numbers on The Hurt Locker so unless it was a very significant number of theaters, you won’t hear anything about it.

    Loyal- Next weekend is one of the busiest of the whole moviegoing year. More than half of the titles in this week’s top 10 should see their weekend take actually go up next week. If Avatar really has any legs, it should fall 40% max. If it’s going to have any shot of making more than Twilight and giving Transformers a run, it’ll need to be more like 20% or less. That would give Sherlock a tall order to beat.

  • 22 12-20-2009 at 2:04 pm

    James D. said...

    I saw The Road, and was thoroughly disappointed.

    I may have to skip my Christmas movie tradition for the Chargers-Titans game, though.

  • 23 12-20-2009 at 2:29 pm

    McGuff said...

    Just got back from Invictus. Ugh.

    It’s really bad, and really elementary filmmaking, people. Avoid, avoid, avoid. Just watch Remember the Titans again.

  • 24 12-20-2009 at 3:26 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Disagreed. I thought “Invictus” was solid entertainment with a really warmly worn performance from Morgan Freeman. Despite some of the sluggishness of the film and the predictability of the ending, that closing Rugby match is undeniably inspiring.

  • 25 12-20-2009 at 3:45 pm

    Benjamin said...

    Chad, just a correction:
    it was the 8th big opening of a non-sequel, and the biggest opening ever for a film not based on source material.

  • 26 12-20-2009 at 3:50 pm

    Shelby said...

    I meant comparing Avatar and District 9 in terms of theme and execution. For instance, in both films there are humans who become (or “become”) persecuted aliens; the different approaches to the use of special effects to achieve “realism”; different approaches to an immersive film experience that overwhelms you; taking audiences to an unfamiliar setting. (Heck, both movies even presented alien languages – although in District 9 they were alien human languages – Afrikaans? – as well as alien alien languages.)

    I’m not really interested in a “who did it better” thing but it would be interesting to compare.

  • 27 12-20-2009 at 4:01 pm

    red_wine said...

    “But I also know that any time a film with an original screenplay from a distinct filmmaker can earn this type of money, it’s a good thing for the industry.”

    Whether that screenplay can be classified as original is questionable. :-)

    But Chad I would still recommend you to go out and see the sucker on the biggest screen possible. The movie may not be good, but it atleast looks good.

  • 28 12-20-2009 at 4:14 pm

    JJ said...

    Back from ‘Avatar’.

    Ummm, 7/10?

    I appreciated this film a Hell of a lot more than I loved it.

    The visuals = astounding. Not OMGbestvisualseverrr. But truly beautiful (and they probably make up a good 4 or 5 of my 7/10 rating).

    The storytelling was just too simplistic (for my expectations/liking), and the dialogue/line deliveries were pretty bad in spots.

    The romance was not well-developed. Montages, glances, swelling music, & BRIEF spurts of relationship-building conversations does not build a heartwrenching romance.

    I loved the action. I was rooting big time for the Na’vi to win. But I wasn’t crying for them or for the central romance at any point.

    Goodish movie, some amazing high points, some pretty bad low points. I guess I recommend it (mostly to the teens and 20’s crowd).

    And I’m a 29 yr. old male.

    As far as box office goes, this will do incredible in the coming week/weekend because that storm kept people (like me in NY) indoors for a good 16-20 hours yesterday and today.

  • 29 12-20-2009 at 5:18 pm

    McGuff said...

    Speaking: Fair enough, there’s obviously quite a few of those opinions out there. I thought the slow motion device used toward the end really got in the way of the development of emotion. If it had allowed things to happen, and allowed me (the viewer) the tools to put together the implications this had on the country, I could have seen something. But this slow motion, with 50 cuts to people around the country watching, just was hitting me in the head with the theme too often. Yes, I get it: black and white hands together on the trophy.

  • 30 12-20-2009 at 5:51 pm

    Zac said...

    My dad and stepmom, who go to the movies maybe 6 times a year, saw Avatar and loved it. I think it’ll have a wide ranging appeal.

  • 31 12-20-2009 at 5:55 pm

    Speaking English said...

    I do too, Zac. The older folks at my screening seemed to love it, as did the very young ones (obviously, but still!).

  • 32 12-20-2009 at 6:30 pm

    Anna said...

    Sherlock Holmes should do really well next weekend. If its reviews remain solid, it has a lot going for it. And I believe it’s been tracking quite well.

  • 33 12-20-2009 at 6:35 pm

    Kevin said...

    I’m guessing Avatar takes in something in the realm of 55 million or more next weekend based on word of mouth, with Sherlock Holmes a close second.

  • 34 12-20-2009 at 6:46 pm

    Kevin said...

    It’s a very universal film. Some of the violence is a little much for really little kids, but otherwise, it’s something everyone can (and likely will) enjoy. I’ve not talked to anyone who didn’t like it. The only actual negative comment I’ve heard thus far from anyone was just that it was long. I personally didn’t feel the length, as it was very fast-paced (like all James Cameron movies aside from Titanic). But other than that, everyone I’ve talked to really enjoyed it and thought it was great.

  • 35 12-20-2009 at 7:42 pm

    Me. said...

    Here’s hoping Avatar kicks Twilight’s ass.

    It’s on my top 10 of the year currently.

  • 36 12-20-2009 at 7:51 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    I’ll see Avatar if everyone on this board sees the film I made, how’s that?

  • 37 12-20-2009 at 8:36 pm

    Jim T said...

    Chad, I would but the female star looks a bit like Renée Zellweger. Plus, I don’t want you to see Avatar :p

  • 38 12-20-2009 at 8:46 pm

    Kevin said...

    I’ll watch your film Chad. Where can I watch it?

  • 39 12-20-2009 at 8:49 pm

    Pauley said...

    Did you actually just write “It’s no secret that I thought the film looked stupid.” Stupid? How old are you?

  • 40 12-20-2009 at 9:26 pm

    Ripley said...

    Chad should stick to counting beans, his taste/opinions about films should be left to those of us with hearts, imaginations and good taste (IMO). Avatar was fantastic in 3D and I cannot wait to see it again!

  • 41 12-20-2009 at 9:32 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    I’m 27. How old are you?

  • 42 12-20-2009 at 10:31 pm

    Kyle said...

    Speaking English –
    Clearly, we have very different movie tastes. I saw both films this weekend as well and hated them both.

    Up in the Air was completely predictable and its only saving grace was George Clooney’s ability to make the mediocre more watchable and Vera Farmiga’s nude backside. By the time it got to the wedding scene, it just tanked. I’m flabbergasted that Anna Kendrick is in the conversation for awards consideration at all.

    Avatar…I caught on the IMAX 3D screen, and while I was wowed early in the film by all the great visuals…the story, with its incredible amount of cliches, eventually pulled me out. Needless to say, by the time the action sequences were ramping up, I just didn’t care anymore and my mind started to drift at all the things I could have been doing.

    Two HUGE disappointments for me this weekend, I look forward to seeing “Crazy Heart” in hopes of something good to cap the year off with.

  • 43 12-20-2009 at 11:19 pm

    Glenn said...

    Remember, “Avatar” could add another $100m just on Monday-Friday alone so even if “Sherlock Holmes” beats it over the weekend, it’ll still be going along nicely.

  • 44 12-21-2009 at 12:53 am

    Maxim said...

    “Clooney hasn’t had a movie without “Ocean” in the title gross more than $60 million since 2000, so a big total will be much more welcome than another golden statue.”

    There is a better way to read that figure and to say that “Burn After Reading” was a big fat hit that made practically as much as “No Country” (sorry that I had to swith to Coens to put that $60 million dollar figure in perspective).

    But then it did have a bigger star in Pitt…

  • 45 12-21-2009 at 12:54 am

    Maxim said...

    “Remember, “Avatar” could add another $100m just on Monday-Friday alone so even if “Sherlock Holmes” beats it over the weekend, it’ll still be going along nicely.”

    This will not happen but it’s fine as I’m sure that ‘Avatar’ will have good legs and will have great repeat business.

  • 46 12-21-2009 at 3:28 am

    Gioconda said...

    From Kyle: Avatar…I caught on the IMAX 3D screen, and while I was wowed early in the film by all the great visuals…the story, with its incredible amount of cliches, eventually pulled me out. Needless to say, by the time the action sequences were ramping up, I just didn’t care anymore and my mind started to drift at all the things I could have been doing.

    Completely agree, I felt the exact same way about the movie.

  • 47 12-21-2009 at 5:24 am

    Morgan said...

    Looks like someone at the Guardian has already done the Avatar vs. District 9 comparison…

  • 48 12-21-2009 at 11:05 am

    ninja said...

    Looks like Pandora was underestimated. newly reported figure is $77 mio and only 3% drop on Sunday. Unbelievable if the numbers hold.

  • 49 12-22-2009 at 3:54 am

    Michel said...


    This is the most interesting article regarding Avatar’s thematic recurrency and comparing it to District 9.

    I share the author’s opinion: District 9 sems to be the more subversive of the two.