'Avatar' closing in on 'Titanic' record

2:34 PM PST 01/14/2010 by Carl DiOrio, AP
"Avatar," left, "The Book of Eli" and "The Spy Next Door"

VIDEO: Cameron epic could win fifth weekend at boxoffice




The four-day Martin Luther King Day weekend features a boxoffice smackdown between the holdover of all holdovers and the tag-team pairing of two new pics.

If James Cameron's boxoffice behemoth "Avatar" manages to beat the wide openers, it will top the domestic rankings for a rare fifth consecutive session and keep tongues wagging over its prospects for cruising past "Titanic" in the history books. But the competition appears potentially muscular: Warner Bros. sends out the Denzel Washington-toplined actioner "The Book of Eli," and Lionsgate launches Jackie Chan starrer "The Spy Next Door," a more family-friendly action film.

Last weekend, "Avatar" shrugged off a trio of wide openers in posting the first four-peat performance since "The Dark Knight" in the summer. If "Avatar" wins again, it would be the first to top the rankings for five consecutive weeks since Disney's M. Night Shyamalan-helmed horror pic "The Sixth Sense" in 1999.

Meanwhile, there's talk of Fox setting "Avatar" for DVD release in April. But don't expect an official decision until "Avatar" starts running out of theatrical steam, and nobody anticipates that happening anytime soon.

In fact, industryites now say it's not impossible that "Avatar" can beat the $1.84 billion worldwide cume for Cameron's "Titantic," a record that's stood since 1998 and has been considered a bridge too far.

As for its weekend prospects, the sci-fi epic could fall 25%-30% this session -- it slid 27% last weekend -- and still ring up about $36 million, and Monday grosses could produce an even heftier haul of $40 million-plus for the holiday-stretched frame. That likely would be enough to beat the newcomers.

Co-directed by Allen and Albert Hughes, "Eli" represents the brothers' first theatrical feature since 2001's "From Hell." Co-starring Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis and Tom Waits, the film should skew significantly male and fetch $30 million-$40 million through Monday.

Warners is distributing for the film's producer and financier, Alcon Entertainment, which hit a new high recently with high-grossing Sandra Bullock starrer "The Blind Side."

"Alcon has brought us another strong movie," Warners distribution boss Dan Fellman said.

Helmed by Brian Levant ("Are We There Yet?"), "Spy" looks likely to register into the high-teen millions through Monday.

"Jackie Chan hasn't been in a PG film for a while, so we're going to be able to capitalize on his fan base," Lionsgate distribution topper David Spitz said.

"Spy" co-stars George Lopez and Billy Ray Cyrus, both good draws for family moviegoers.

Elsewhere, several platform releases have scheduled expansions starting today.

Paramount will broaden Peter Jackson's "The Lovely Bones" into wide release after a month of limited engagements and should do decent biz on young-female support. Apparition's period drama "The Young Victoria" adds a few dozen playdates for about 500 runs, and Fox Searchlight's Jeff Bridges starrer "Crazy Heart" goes from 33 theaters to 46.

Among limited openers, Sony Pictures Classics unspools Leo Tolstoy biopic "The Last Station" in two New York locations and one in Los Angeles.

On an industrywide basis, boxoffice year 2010's sophomore session will be compared with a rousing $231 million MLK frame in 2009 topped by the surprising $39.2 million opening of Sony's "Paul Blart: Mall Cop." Hollywood is off to a fast start on the boxoffice year, with first-week grosses up 22% from a year-ago, at $228 million.
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