Christmas Time  in Hollis, Queens
1 Avatar $75,000,000 (-2.6%) $21,701 $212,268,000
2 Sherlock Holmes $65,380,000 $18,031 $65,380,000
3 Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel $50,200,000 $13,568 $77,051,000
4 It’s Complicated $22,114,000 $7,660 $22,114,000
5 Up in the Air $11,755,000 (+266.2%) $6,203 $24,518,000
6 The Blind Side $11,730,000 (+17.1%) $4,241 $184,387,000
7 The Princess and the Frog $8,683,000 (-28.7%) $2,499 $63,357,000
8 Nine $5,544,000 (+2,055.3%) $3,926 $5,922,000
9 Did You Hear About the Morgans? $5,000,000 (-24.4%) $1,840 $15,597,000
10 Invictus $4,390,000 (+4.4%) $2,032 $23,365,000

This just in: Mom cooking chicken and rice and beans.

We’re in a weird place with Avatar, in that in a recent roundtable interview, James Cameron said he felt like an outsider to Hollywood. Ironically, I think he believes this, that somehow the guy who made the most successful film of all time and has done little since the first Terminator but make big budget studio movies. Psychologically, I think he probably needs to feel this way to do what he does. These films are personal to him, and being an outsider separates him from franchise filmmakers like Michael Bay. Most of the people who can command such budgets are shit filmmakers. But much like Christians who suggest they are repressed in America, and the Bush administration while it held majorities, there is a weird sense that Avatar, one of the most expensive films ever made, is getting treated as an underdog. How the fuck is this possible? And so you have people actively rooting for its box office success as if it’s a measure of something.

To a certain extent there has been a slingshot effect in the – I don’t want to say “weak,” but – non-nine-digit opening weekend last weekend. I think part of this is that the film is behaving like a blockbuster, but not opening like one. Therein lies the only way this film could stop at around $400 domestically, if the less-than opening weekend buoyed this week to the point that it drops more vertiginously next weekend, and the weekend after that. Again, that would be the worst of it, and a total of around $400 is a done deal. The flip side of that is that we don’t know exactly what the hell is going on here, and by the end of next weekend, it’s quite possible that the film will be at or over $300 Million dollars. Next week is also the end of the holiday season, so it likely can’t continue with such ease. But the film has 3-D theaters on lock until March 5 2010 (my birthday if you want to get me anything), and as that is the case, this is the sort of film that could attract repeated return engagements because the home experience won’t match the theatrical.

Last week I was saying I didn’t think the film would get to $400 Million because I thought Sherlock Holmes and Alvin and the Chipmunks might side-swipe it. And though both did exceptional business, you can’t fuck with a/the Juggernaut (bitch). Having seen Avatar I probably think less of it than I did last weekend, but I’m also looking at the numbers it did this weekend and I can’t deny what is plainly evident (though wasn’t evident as of Sunday last week): this has found its audience, and there are still people who are wary who may now or in the new year feel that they have to go see the film that everyone is talking about. Though I think Spider-Man and The Dark Knight became transcendent of their comic book roots, and truly became water-cooler conversation pieces (as it were, if your company didn’t downsize the water-cooler), I don’t think a lot of films really have, even films that gross $400 Million dollars (Shreks, Transformers, etc.). I think that audiences and families go to pictures like Harry Potter and Iron Man and they get what they want, but I don’t think it they have the “I want to talk about it” factor of this film. I was hanging out with a just-21 year old hottie this weekend, and she was talking about how she loved the Twilight books, and that she hates reading, but is now so turned on by the Twilight books to continue reading. I’m sure she’ll give it a go, but I doubt she will find the same sort of heroin, and as most readers will tell you, Stephanie Meyer and Dan Brown are not great writers, so whatever is being responded to is not formalist in nature. For the most part, there are large untapped theatrical audiences who don’t make a habit of going to movies, and they were the ones who made Titanic a big hit. And you have these phenomenons that tap into what is essentially unmined ore, and you can get a film like this, but you can’t count on the Twilights or Da Vinci Codes, or the Titanics, because they happen when they happen for reasons that are often removed from quality. How do you tap into a Zeitgeist? I don’t know, but I think that’s quite possible what we have here, and we also have the possibility of a film doing Titanic numbers, or better. Fox bungled the marketing, but that seems to have worked to the film’s favor. Can you plan for that? Hell no. Just as I find it hard to look at a $75 Million dollar opening and think a picture can get to $400. Normally shit doesn’t work this way until it does. That’s not to say Avatar deserves to be ranked with such airport reading, and Cameron is nothing if not a master technician. And like most of my peers, I can’t help but be happy that an original film like this seems likely to make money and all that.

Bottom line: if you’re sick of hearing about Avatar‘s box office, or the film itself, prepare to get bored for the next two months or more.

Sherlock Holmes opened strongly considering it wasn’t that long ago that both Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law were box office poison. There is some good word of mouth, but the film is going to have a hard time doing any more than $150 Million, though it may get buoyed by the holiday weekend next enough to make that happen. But I’m looking at that $65 Million, and not seeing $200. My guess is that international is a bit stronger, though that Brad Pitt sequel talk may be hooey. The Squeakquel did $77 Million in five days, and should have a robust showing for the next couple. The first film did $217 Million, and though this may not crest over $200 – the opening could be inflated – I wouldn’t count out the long play on this one. I would suggest it’s going to hit $100 before the end of the year, and should be around $140 by the end of next, which is going to put that $200 in reach. Such a strange franchise.

It’s Complicated didn’t burn up the charts, but this is the sort of film that can play to $100. It opened a little stronger than Julie and Julia, and that film got to $94 Million, so as long as women like this a taste more, then it’s got a fighting chance of going nine digits. I wonder if women will hate it as much as the menfolk I’ve known who have seen it hate it. Again, this sort of ties into Avatar. Sometimes these films work, and sometimes they don’t and it’s easy to suggest why the bad ones fail, but many offer the same sorts of empty-headed fantasies about life and love.

Up in the Air expanded okay, but this is no Juno, and unless George Clooney gets front and center, I don’t think this is going to be more than a $50-60 Million dollar film. I think in the last week you’ve seen a lot of Oscar heat get transferred to Avatar, and though I think the backlash can work against Cameron’s film (he’s simply never going to win a screenplay award) it’s looking to be the horse to beat for the next month. As that is the case, all the talk of Up in the Air being a front runner is evaporating, and though it should get a number of nominations, and that should buoy it eventually, Avatar is sucking the oxygen out of its room. Even with no competition, it should be off next weekend. The Blind Side is getting to $200, that’s for sure, it went up, and it played rather strong. If Avatar is a front runner, then why the fuck haven’t Sandra Bullock’s people turned he performance into the thing? I don’t get it. There’s still a chance. Unlike for Nine, which may get some head-pat nods, but if the Weinsteins want to pick their horse, they’re better off with Quentin Tarantino. We could see a Pulp Fiction vs. Forrest Gump mexican stand-off with Avatar vs. Inglourious Basterds, and frankly it’s the same argument of hipsters vs. gen-pop, but Christoph Waltz is almost a done deal, and I could see QT getting the original screenplay, and possibly a split on picture/director with QT getting director and Cameron getting picture. But we ain’t there yet. Suffice to say, Nine is done, even if it makes the ten-BP list.

The Princess and my kids would rather watch CGI-chipmunks.

I might offer my best of the decade list next week in lieu of a column, as there’s nothing coming out next week. Dare me to do it. #10 is Anchorman. Have I said too much?