By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood December 27, 2009 at 5:46AM
Over the holiday weekend, the two most popular topics on my Twitter feed were Avatar and Sherlock Holmes. While there was debate on Sherlock Holmes's merits, most of my tweeters approved of Cameron's blockbuster (as did critics--it scored 83 on both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic). Avatar looks to challenge, if not beat, Titanic's box office records, based on its extraordinary performance in North America so far: $75 million over the holiday and $212 million to date. (Here's the LAT's box office report, and David Poland's analysis.)
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.
Fox had a fantastic weekend: not only will they make back their $310-million Avatar budget and then some (with less pricey sequels in the offing), but the review-proof $70-million Alvin Chipmunk Squeakuel also scored $77.1 million over the five-day weekend with families. Among other family films, Disney's A Christmas Carol won't see much post-holiday business; its cume is $135 million, not great for a movie that cost $190 million. Luckily, Bob Zemeckis's animated feature fared better overseas; its worldwide cume is $295 million. Disney was hoping that its 2-D The Princess and the Frog would get a holiday boost, but it added just $8.7 million over the three day weekend, for a $63.4 million total.
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.