Avatar's boffo 3-D ticket sales also helped to deliver the biggest box office weekend in Hollywood history: an estimated $278 million in North America from Friday through Sunday. But indie films ate each other alive in a too-crowded holiday frame.
Warner Bros.' $90-million Sherlock Holmes (Tomatometer 69%) started out strong on Christmas Day and scored $65.4 million over three days, but Avatar finally won the weekend, dropping just 3 % from last week, which is a sign of mighty word-of-mouth. With 200 adaptations over the years, every generation reinvents the pipe-smoking detective (see Slate's list of wrong-headed Holmes adaptations). With this notch on his belt, Robert Downey Jr. now boasts three $100-million-plus hits in just two years: Holmes, Iron Man, Tropic Thunder, and a likely fourth in Iron Man 2.
Writer-director Nancy Meyers landed her second-highest weekend with Universal/Relativity's $85-million R-rated boomer comedy It's Complicated, which earned $22.1 million off mixed reviews, but a Cinemascore of A-, which bodes well for a strong hold. (Her best opening, What Women Want, starred Mel Gibson and grossed $182 million domestically.)
Clint Eastwood's holdover Invictus, about a watershed year for South Africa and Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman), should have earned more than $4.2 million--the historic drama has grossed just $23.2 million to date and will need a serious Oscar boost to get past $40 million.
While Paramount/Montecito's $25-million Jason Reitman dramedy Up in the Air performed well in limited release, the funny-serious festival hit starring George Clooney showed crossover weakness when the awards contender widened this weekend, grossing just $11.8 million. Still, that's a lot better than the expensive musical Nine, which delivered only $5.5 million on its wide break.
The Weinstein Co. made a disastrous gamble that lightning would strike twice with the Rob Marshall musical, based on the hit play inspired by Fellini's 8 1/2. They've been selling it to audiences who liked Chicago, which won the best picture Oscar. That's not going to happen here. I suspected that Nine would not play well to wide audiences. The lavish 60s period musical needed help from critics, but it earned just 40 % on Rotten Tomatoes. The Weinsteins and partner Relativity backed an art-house play that cost some $80 million. They won't get it back, and while Weinstein worked his customary magic on the Golden Globes voters, that isn't going to help the film gain Oscar traction now.