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Movie projector: ‘Avatar’ to dominate three new competitors

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Three new movies open Friday, but the big story at the box office this weekend will once again be ‘Avatar.’

The new pictures, Lionsgate’s horror film ‘Daybreakers,’ Universal Pictures romantic comedy ‘Leap Year’ and the Weinstein Co. comedy ‘Youth in Revolt,’ are on track to open between $10 million and $15 million each in ticket sales.

20th Century Fox’s 3-D blockbuster ‘Avatar’ has already sold a total of $1.13 billion worth of tickets worldwide. This week it surpassed ‘The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King’ to become the second-highest-grossing movie in history, not accounting for increases in ticket prices and foreign exchange rates.

In the U.S. and Canada, sales for ‘Avatar’ declined a relatively modest 9% last weekend to $68.5 million. However, in part because last weekend included the New Year’s Day holiday, ‘Avatar’ is likely to decline closer to 40% this weekend, putting it between $40 million and $50 million. It’s almost certain to post the biggest-ever fourth weekend at the domestic box office, beating a record of $28.7 million previously held by ‘Avatar’ director James Cameron’s last film, ‘Titanic.’ Even accounting for ticket price inflation, which would make the ‘Titanic’ weekend roughly $45 million, ‘Avatar’ could be bigger.

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It’s possible ‘Avatar’ could be much higher, in fact, if it follows the pattern of ‘Titanic,’ which dropped only 14% on its fourth weekend and still stands as the highest-grossing film of all time, both domestically and worldwide.

Last weekend’s No. 3 movie, ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks,’ will likely be No. 2 this weekend, since its declines so far have been much smaller than those of ‘Sherlock Holmes,’ which slightly beat it last weekend. ‘Sherlock Holmes’ was bigger Monday through Wednesday, but as a family movie, ‘Alvin’ should do much better in Saturday and Sunday matinees.

All three of the weekend’s new movies were inexpensive to produce and should be financially successful if they open higher than $10 million.

People who have seen pre-release moviegoer polling say ‘Daybreakers,’ a futuristic vampire film starring Ethan Hawke, has the best chance of doing so. Lionsgate co-financed the movie with the Australian government at a total cost of $20 million. Thanks to foreign pre-sales, one person close to the picture said, Lionsgate has only several million dollars at risk for the picture’s domestic release.

Universal Pictures and its frequent partner Relativity Media bought romantic comedy ‘Leap Year’ from financier Spyglass Entertainment for $19 million. Like most movies starring Amy Adams, it’s expected to do best with young female moviegoers and open between $10 million and $12 million.

The weekend’s wild card is comedy ‘Youth in Revolt,’ starring Michael Cera as a teenager who adopts a new identity, and mustache, which the Weinstein Co. financed for about $18 million. While tracking was modest for the last several weeks, there has been a recent spike in interest among young males and females, apparently driven by increased advertising. It now has a shot at beating ‘Leap Year’ this weekend, which would be good news for the financially struggling Weinstein.

-- Ben Fritz

Top photo: Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe in ‘Daybreakers.’ Credit: Ben Rothstein/Lionsgate


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