'Avatar' takes aim at 'Titanic,' 'Dark Knight'

17-day toll indicates Cameron could top himself

"Avatar" crushed its rivals at the New Year holiday weekend boxoffice in North America and is poised to challenge "The Dark Knight" as the second-biggest movie ever, according to data released Sunday.

Even "Titanic" could be threatened. When ticket-price inflation is included, that film had earned $241 million after 17 days, according to tracking firm Box Office Mojo.

After 17 days in cinemas across the United States and Canada, "Avatar" has earned $352.1 million, placing it at No. 15 among all movies in terms of ticket sales. Fox, a unit of News Corp, forecast the film would end up in the $500 million range.

"This is like a freight train out of control," Fox distribution executive Bert Livingston said. "It just keeps on going."

James Cameron's 3-D sci-fi epic earned $68.3 million in the three days beginning Friday, setting a record for a film in its third weekend of release, distributor 20th Century Fox said. The old mark of $45 million was set by "Spider-Man" in 2002.

Cameron's 1997 drama "Titanic," the biggest film of all time before accounting for inflation, earned $601 million, followed by 2008's "The Dark Knight" with $533 million. "Star Wars" currently holds the No. 3 berth with $461 million.

"Avatar" is the tale of a disabled ex-Marine sent from Earth to infiltrate a race of 10-foot blue aliens and persuade them to let his employer mine their homeland for natural resources. It was reportedly the most expensive film ever made, with a budget of at least $300 million.

In the absence of any major new releases, the rankings of the rest of the films in the top 10 were largely unchanged from the previous week.