'Avatar' boosts Fox to top of b.o. rankings

Studio boasts $751 mil domestic take for 2010; Warners next

With the first quarter in the books and less than a month until the start of the summer boxoffice season, Fox holds the pole position in domestic market share for a second straight year.

Last year, that early jump mattered little, as Warner Bros. captured both summer and annual bragging rights on the strength of a killer second half. But Fox boasts a notably improved summer lineup this year, so it will be interesting to watch the distribution titans clash in the all-important seasonal marketplace.

Meantime, Warners shaved a percentage point off of Fox's lead just last weekend with the $64.2 million bow of "Clash of the Titans."

Through Sunday, Fox boasts $751 million in year-to-date b.o. for a 26% market share, based on three new releases and three holdovers. Warners sits second among all domestic distribs with $535 million in 2010 coin and a 19% share from six new pics and eight holdovers.

Fox built its lead largely on the back of 3D phenom "Avatar," which has rung up $458 million of its $743 million domestic haul since Jan. 1. But there's been nary a misfire in the mix of the studio's half-dozen pics playing in cinemas so far this year, and "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel" squirreled away an impressive $219 million following its Dec. 23 bow.

"At the end of the day, we would much rather lead in profitability than market share," Fox distribution topper Bruce Snyder said. "Market share is nice, but you can't deposit it."

That's not to say Snyder's competitive juices won't run high this summer. "We are very bullish on our summer's product," he allowed.

Fox's swimsuit-season tentpoles include a big-screen adaptation of "The A-Team," set to unspool on June 11; the Tom Cruise-Cameron Diaz actioner "Knight & Day," opening June 25; and sci-fi action sequel "Predators," which debuts July 9.

Last year, Warners whizzed past Fox with second-half successes including a $302 million run by "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." Its latest summer slate offers up at least three big pics: romantic comedy sequel "Sex & the City 2" (May 27), comics-inspired action fantasy "Jonah Hex" (June 18) and Leonardo DiCaprio starrer "Inception" (July 16).

Certainly, other distributors still might move up the market share rankings by year's end. Sitting No. 3 with $400 million and a 14% share, Disney opens action fantasy "Prince of Persia: Sands of Time" during the ultra-lucrative Memorial Day frame and has animated sequel "Toy Story 3" slotted June 18.

The balance of the majors' year-to-date pecking order includes Paramount with $338 million and a 12% share, Universal with $208 million and a 7% share, and Sony with $186 million and a near 7% share.

Lionsgate sits seventh with $115 million (4%), while rival minimajor Overture is eighth with $66 million (2%). Specialty unit Fox Searchlight is ninth with $61 million (2%), and Summit Entertainment ranks 10th with $42 million (1%).