‘Avatar’ Shows Promise in Midnight Launch

by Brandon Gray

December 18, 2009

In its midnight launch, Avatar pulled in $3.537 million at approximately 2,000 sites. 3D runs accounted for 85 percent of the gross. While such midnight grosses are not necessarily indicative of how the full weekend will play out, the initial sampling was nonetheless strong for a movie with no predecessors.

The three biggest midnight openings are The Twilight Saga: New Moon's $26.3 million, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince's $22.2 million and The Dark Knight's $18.5 million. However, those were sequels with rabid fan bases, therefore it would have been unrealistic to expect Avatar to come anywhere near them.

More comparable to Avatar would be I Am Legend, the movie that currently holds the December opening weekend record ($77.2 million). Its midnight start was $1.7 million at around 1,100 sites, a mere fraction of its $30.1 million opening day. Another epic adventure with a long runtime like Avatar, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, earned around $4 million in its midnight debut, leading to an $18.2 million first day (though it opened on a Wednesday). Earlier this year, Watchmen logged $4.55 million out of the gate at midnight but fizzled quickly, while Star Trek blasted off with $4 million from Thursday night previews and had generated $79.2 million by Sunday.

Avatar director James Cameron's last picture, Titanic, set sail on the same weekend in 1997. While no figures are available for its midnight showings, the romantic epic grossed $8.7 million on its opening day, or the equivalent of around $14 million adjusted for ticket price inflation. That was a blockbuster kick-off in those days, but it, of course, had legendary longevity as well, ultimately becoming the highest-grossing movie ever at $600.8 million.

Beyond its midnight start, Avatar strikes approximately 7,000 screens at 3,452 sites this weekend. That includes 3,129 screens at 2,038 3D sites (179 of which are IMAX), which is slightly less than A Christmas Carol (2009)'s debut at 2,045 3D sites (and 181 IMAX sites). Avatar also has a massive foreign campaign, striking 13,795 screens (including 3,941 3D screens) in 106 territories this weekend, and it's scheduled to reach 17,222 screens (including 5,360 screens) in 120 territories later on. Counter-programming Avatar this weekend is romantic comedy Did You Hear About the Morgans?, which debuts on around 3,000 screens at 2,718 sites.

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