"Avatar" breaks $2 billion at worldwide box office

LOS ANGELES Sun Jan 31, 2010 2:18pm EST

A scene from James Cameron's sci-fi epic ''Avatar''. REUTERS/20th Century Fox/Handout

A scene from James Cameron's sci-fi epic ''Avatar''.

Credit: Reuters/20th Century Fox/Handout

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Avatar" ventured further into rarefied territory at the worldwide box office during the weekend, surpassing the $2 billion mark days after it broke the record held by "Titanic."

James Cameron's 3-D sci-fi spectacular has grossed $2.039 billion after seven chart-topping weekends of release, distributor 20th Century Fox said on Sunday.

The film last Monday smashed the $1.843 billion record set in 1998 by the filmmaker's "Titanic."

The News Corp.-owned studio declined to forecast where the film would end up, since it expected Tuesday morning's Oscar nominations to spur a new wave of interest.

It did predict that "Avatar" would break "Titanic's" North American record of $601 million by Wednesday. The film moved to $594.5 million after a $30 million weekend in the United States and Canada.

The foreign total stands at $1.45 billion after a $95 million weekend from 120 countries. It remained No. 1 in many of them, including France (sales to date: $134 million), China ($126 million), Australia ($84 million) and Brazil ($43 million).

The one caveat to the "Avatar" records is that sales are not adjusted for inflation, or for the fact that ticket prices were considerably higher for 3-D screenings.

OSCAR UNDERDOG

While "Avatar" is expected to figure prominently in the Oscar nominations, especially in the technical categories, it has been overshadowed during awards season by "The Hurt Locker," a low-budget war film directed by Cameron's ex-wife. Kathryn Bigelow added another trophy to her collection on Saturday at the Directors Guild of America Awards. Only six times in 62 years has the DGA winner not gone on to take the Oscar for best director.

"Titanic" picked up 14 nominations and won 11 prizes including best picture, director and editing for Cameron.

Elsewhere in North America, Mel Gibson opened at a distant No. 2 with the kidnap thriller "Edge of Darkness," his first on-screen performance since 2002.

The Warner Bros. release earned $17.1 million, exceeding expectations of an opening in the low to mid-teen millions. Still, it marked his worst opening since "Braveheart" launched with $9.9 million in 1995. He was last in theaters with "Signs," which opened to $60 million in 2002.

Gibson, who has directed two big movies since starring in "Signs," has kept a fairly low profile since his 2006 arrest for drunken driving in Malibu when he made anti-Semitic comments.

Warner Bros. distribution president Dan Fellman said he considered the opening weekend to be a "sneak preview" and he hoped positive word of mouth would sustain its performance in coming weekends. Just over half the audience was aged 35 and older, he said.

Also new was the widely lambasted Walt Disney Co. romantic comedy "When in Rome," starring Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel. It opened at No. 3 with $12.1 million in sales.

Fox's "The Tooth Fairy," which was steady at No. 4 with $10 million in its second weekend; the total for the Dwayne Johnson comedy rose to $26 million at the box office. "The Book of Eli" fell two spots to No. 5 with $8.8 million; after three weeks, the Denzel Washington drama has earned $74 million.

Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner Inc., also released "The Book of Eli."

(Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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