UPDATE 2-"Avatar" becomes highest-grossing movie

Tue Jan 26, 2010 8:49pm EST

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By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES, Jan 26 (Reuters) - "Avatar" has surpassed "Titanic" as the highest-grossing movie worldwide, giving director James Cameron a remarkable double a week before his sci-fi spectacular is expected to rack up a slew of Oscar nominations.

Gregg Brilliant, a spokesman for the News Corp (NWSA.O)-owned studio 20th Century Fox, said on Tuesday the worldwide box office total for "Avatar" stands at $1.859 billion, beating the $1.843 billion racked up by Cameron's romantic drama "Titanic" in 1997-1998.

"Avatar" broke the record in a little over six weeks.

The film has enjoyed an unbroken reign in most countries, including the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Russia, Britain and Australia.

The data are not adjusted for inflation.

Ticket sales got an additional boost from premium prices for 3-D screenings. Fox said 72 percent of worldwide sales come from 3-D engagements.

The action-adventure movie, starring Sigourney Weaver, is set in 2154 and tells the tale of a disabled ex-Marine sent to Earth to infiltrate a race of 10-foot (3-metre) blue aliens and persuade them to let his employer mine their homeland for natural resources.

More than five years in the making, it was reportedly one of the most expensive films with a budget of at least $300 million, due partly to its high-tech special effects and the creation of a new language used by the extra-terrestrial Na'vi race.

Despite some industry skepticism last year, the movie was released in December to glowing reviews and went on to win a the Golden Globe for best drama earlier this month.

Tom O'Neil, an awards pundit at www.TheEnvelope.com, said "Avatar" was not just a sure bet for a best picture Academy Award nomination on Feb. 2, but a leading contender to win the top Oscar on March 7. It is also expected to dominate the technical categories.

"It is the Oscar front-runner," O'Neil told Reuters. "It won the Golden Globe, it has conquered the global box office and it has won universal praise."

"The only cliffhanger is, will the notorious snobs in the Academy finally appreciate sci-fi?," he said, noting that a science fiction movie has never won a best picture Oscar. (Additional reporting by Dean Goodman)

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