'Avatar' opening hindered by weather, explodes overseas

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From Los Angeles Times' Company Town

Heavy snowfall on the East Coast slowed 20th Century Fox's high-stakes opening of "Avatar" to a solid but not spectacular studio-estimated $73 million this weekend in the U.S. and Canada, while international ticket sales totaled a spectacular $159.2 million.

Domestic grosses for the James Cameron-directed 3-D tent-pole movie declined from Friday to Saturday, an unusual occurrence for a movie without popular midnight screenings or poor word of mouth, and a sign of just how badly it was hurt by the fact that potential audiences from Washington, D.C., to New England stayed home because of the dangerous roads and frigid weather.

Although $73 million is nothing for Fox to get upset about, it's a bit below the December 2007 release many in the industry were comparing it to, "I Am Legend" starring Will Smith," which opened to $77.2 million. The movie probably would have beaten that mark if not for the weather.

Still, there's every reason to believe "Avatar" is on its way to a long and successful run at the box office, as audiences gave it an average grade of A, according to market research firm CinemaScore. Along with overwhelmingly positive reviews, that means word of mouth should be excellent. Next weekend will likely be particularly lucrative for "Avatar" and the entire industry as Christmas falls on a Friday, setting up what should be a monstrous three days of moviegoing.

The ultimate profitability of the movie, however, will depend even more on its performance overseas, where "Avatar" is off to a phenomenal start. Its $159.2-million gross from 106 foreign countries is the seventh-biggest foreign launch of all time and the second-biggest outside of the summer movie season, just barely behind last month's "2012." The Roland Emmerich-directed disaster movie opened with $165 million and has gone on to collect more than $600 million overseas, and "Avatar" could easily do the same.

Check out full box office rankings gallery below and read the full story at the LA Times' Company Town blog.

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Photo credit: 20th Century Fox