‘Avatar’ is close to sinking ‘Titanic’ box-office record

Big-screen success isn’t coming easy for small-screen giant CBS Corp.

“Extraordinary Measures,” the first release from the broadcast giant’s new CBS Films, flopped this weekend with a studio-estimated opening of just $7 million in the U.S. and Canada. The family comedy “The Tooth Fairy” also had a less-than-stellar start, while post-apocalyptic action flick “Legion” had a solid reception.

3-D blockbuster “Avatar,” meanwhile, lost little momentum as it dominated the box office for the sixth weekend in a row and came close to breaking the global record for the highest-grossing movie of all time, not accounting for ticket price inflation.

The premiere of “Extraordinary Measures,” an inspirational drama starring Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser that cost $31 million to produce, was particularly weak given the huge promotional push CBS gave the movie on its television network and billboards.

In a glimmer of good news, however, there were indications that ticket sales would decline slowly over the next several weeks: It performed best in smaller markets in the Southeast and Midwest, rather than Los Angeles, New York and other big cities; the biggest audience segment was older women; and those who did see it liked it, giving it an average grade of A-minus, according to market research firm CinemaScore.

Good word of mouth in traditionally less lucrative moviegoing areas has helped drive “The Blind Side” to gross more than six times its $34.1-million opening. As of this weekend, its 11th, the Sandra Bullock drama has generated more than $234 million in domestic box-office receipts.

Speaking about “Extraordinary Measures,” Steven Friedlander, executive vice president of distribution for CBS Films, said, “It opened below our expectations, but it does look like a lot smaller ‘Blind Side.’ That’s the type of playability we’re looking at.”

It wasn’t the only disappointment this weekend, though it was the biggest. “The Tooth Fairy,” from 20th Century Fox and Walden Media, opened to $14.5 million. That’s a soft showing given the movie’s $48-million budget and well below the opening weekends of the last two family comedies starring Dwayne Johnson, “Race to Witch Mountain” and “The Game Plan,” which opened to $24.4 million and $23 million, respectively.

Audiences gave it an A-minus as well, meaning it shouldn’t decline too fast in coming weeks.

Sony Pictures had the only solidly performing new picture this weekend, as “Legion,” from its genre label Screen Gems, opened to $18.2 million. It cost about $25 million to produce.

“Avatar” grossed $107 million overseas, combined with $36 million in the U.S. and Canada, bringing its worldwide total to $1.841 billion. It’s just $2 million short of the $1.843-billion world-record gross set by “Titanic” in 1998, a mark it will easily pass Monday. Of course, with 12 years of ticket price inflation and surcharges on the vast majority of screens where moviegoers are seeing the new film in 3-D, “Avatar” still lags far behind “Titanic” in attendance.

Declines for “Avatar” were 25% or less in every major market except China, where ticket sales fell 34% after the government unexpectedly yanked it off every 2-D screen where it was playing, leaving it only in 3-D locations. State-run distributor China Film Group has still not given the studio an explanation as to why it was unexpectedly removed.

Several other movies that opened over the holidays have been overshadowed by “Avatar” while continuing to play well. Fox’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” surpassed $200 million domestically this weekend and is at $175 million overseas, putting it ahead of the original.

Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow’s reinterpretation of “Sherlock Holmes,” starring Robert Downey Jr., is at nearly $200 million in the U.S. and Canada as well as internationally. Universal Pictures and Relativity Media’s romantic comedy “It’s Complicated” is on the verge of surpassing $100 million domestically and has racked up more than $50 million so far overseas.

In a limited release of 448 theaters, the Christian teen movie “To Save a Life” had a decent $1.5-million opening. The film, which was released by IDP/Samuel Goldwyn Films, cost only $500,000 to produce and saw its strongest ticket sales in smaller markets.

Coming off Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards wins for star Jeff Bridges, “Crazy Heart” grossed a strong $1.4 million, bringing its total to $3.9 million, after Fox Searchlight nearly doubled its theater count to 93 locations. The country music drama will expand further Friday, hitting 35 more cities.