‘Avatar’ on track to torpedo ‘Titanic’ as top film of all time

Leave it to James Cameron to sink the Titanic.

His sci-fi opus Avatar sailed past The Dark Knightto become the second highest-grossing film of all time and is bearing down on his 1997 epic Titanic, which holds the title with $601 million.

Now it’s no longer a question of whether Avatar surpasses Titanic, but by how much.

 

The picture racked up $36 million this weekend, keeping it atop the box office for the sixth straight week and lifting its total to $552 million, according to studio estimates from box office tracking firm Nielsen EDI.

The haul puts Avatar on track to eclipse Titanic by the weekend or early next week, defying analysts who said that increased studio competition would make it impossible for a movie to beat Titanic.

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But Cameron is churning up the box office the same way he did 12 years ago: by releasing his movie over Christmas and pounding the weaker films that tend to populate winter. While it’s unlikely this film can stay No. 1 for four months as Titanic did, Avatar is showing striking similarities to its predecessor.

Consider: The most Avatar‘s ticket sales have fallen in one week is 26%, unheard of for a commercial Hollywood film not named Titanic. And Avatar set another record for most ticket sales in its sixth week of release, beating Titanic‘s $25 million.

Internationally, the film is even stronger. Avatar has taken in $1.81 billion worldwide, and will beat Titanic‘s record of $1.84 billion this week.

“We’re getting people who are seeing it multiple times, of course,” says Chris Aronson of 20th Century Fox, which released the movie. “But there are still people who haven’t seen it yet and plan to. There’s more business to do.”

Of course, it doesn’t hurt when your movie faces middling competition week after week. Legion, a low-budget horror film expected to debut in the middle of the pack, surprised analysts by taking second place with $18.2 million.

The Denzel Washington thriller The Book of Eli continues to hold its own, taking third place with $17 million and lifting its total to $62 million.

The Tooth Fairy, Dwayne Johnson’s family comedy, was fourth with a debut of $14.5 million while Peter Jackson‘s The Lovely Bones rounded out the top five with $8.8 million, bringing its total to $31.6 million.

The only other wide-release movie out this weekend, Harrison Ford‘s medical drama Extraordinary Measures, took seventh place with $7 million, meeting its modest expectations.

Ticket sales were down 31% from last weekend, but up 6% from the same weekend a year ago.

Final figures are due Monday.

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