SUNDAY AM UPDATE: Twentieth Century Fox has just released fresh Avatar numbers based on the 3-day weekend:

International weekend = $125M
International cume = $1.115B
Domestic weekend = $41.3M
Domestic cume = $491.8M
Worldwide cume = $1.606B

bookofeli posterSATURDAY PM/SUNDAY AM:  Alcon Entertainment’s post-apocalyptic actioner with religious overtones The Book of Eli on Friday briefly interrupted the 28-day reign of Avatar. But by Saturday, everything was back to normal with James Cameron’s big budget 3D technopic back at No. 1 for likely the entire Martin Luther King long weekend. (And who was the producer or co-producer of both giant-slayers Book Of Eli and Sherlock Holmes? Joel Silver. After 2 years of failure, he’s on the comeback trail.)

Sources tell me the Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman starrer distributed by Warner Bros with a we-be-cool marketing campaign made $11.7 million Friday and $12 million Saturday for a 3-day weekend of $31.6M from 3,111 theaters. That probably adds up to $37M for the 4-day long weekend — exactly what the studio expected after weeks of really strong tracking and crossover appeal. Once again, the spotlight is back on Alcon’s Princeton duo funded by FedEx boss Fred Smith whose daughter Molly brought the guys The Blind Side. The rest is history — and $240M domestic cume. Book of Eli is also a comeback for the Hughes brothers after a long absence from healthy box office grosses.

avatar bigger posterHollywood predicted Friday’s box office order wouldn’t hold. “It’ll be Avatar for the weekend by a long shot,” one studio rival to 20th Century Fox told me. The blockbuster made $10.5 million Friday, followed by $17.5M Saturday for a 3-day total of $41.3M with Sunday estimates and $491.7M cume. What a tenacious hold, especially when its North American theater count also declined 4% to 3,285 venues. For the 4-day Martin Luther King holiday grosses, grosses should climb to $50M and #1 for the 5th weekend in a row (tying Sixth Sense). Note that Avatar‘s domestic cume could pass $500M by Monday’s end, and definitely Titanic‘s $600M by this month, to become the biggest domestic pic of all time. (But with an asterisk. After all, these figures are not adjusted for inflation or ticket prices, which are much higher for 3D Avatar than 2D Titanic‘s.) Same goes for the worldwide highest-grossing record: Avatar barely trails Titanic $1.4B to $1.8B.

lovely_bones_poster2At No. 3, Peter Jackson’s version of the bestselling book The Lovely Bones finally went modestly wide after 5 weeks in very limited release. It made $5.7M Friday and $6.4M Saturday for a 3-day weekend of $17M and $17.5M cume from 2,563 runs for what’s expected to be a respectable $20M for the 4-day holiday. It’s no secret that the budget was big, and the reviews were mixed, as was the pic’s performance on just 3 screens in NY and LA. But Paramount held a test screening in Kansas City on November 19th for teen girls, and lo and behold the film tested 90% in the top two boxes and scored a 67% definite recommend. So the studio came up with an alternative approach to selling the Dad and his dead daughter storyline and re-invented the film in TV spots as a must-see for teen girls. I’m told fully a third of the audience was under 18 last night. And, while the overall CinemaScore was a B, 70% of that teen audience scored the movie an A. (It turned out to be a controversial but ultimately wise decision to omit the book’s brutal rape.) “Rob Moore, Megan Colligan, and Josh Greenstein did a tremendous job redefining the campaign and never waivered in their enthusiasm for the film given the softness of the platform,” a Peter Jackson pal gushed to me. Especially since Paramount inherited the pic from DreamWorks and never would have greenlit it. Let’s agree it’s the real story of this b.o. weekend.

The only other film opening this weekend was The Spy Next Door which Lionsgate appeared to bury. (I don’t recall seeing a single TV ad for it.) But kids found it for No. 4. Meanwhile, last weekend’s two new films — Lionsgate’s Daybreakers and The Weinstein Co’s Youth In Revolt have already fallen out of the Top 10 because of so many strong holdovers from Christmas-time and before. Yikes!

This long weekend looks like under $200M for the 4 days, the second-best MLK compared to last year when Paul Blart: Mall Cop led the way to the all-time record of $231M.

Here’s the Top 10 (numbers will be refined):

1. Avatar (Fox) Week 5 [3,285 Theaters]
Fri $10.5M, Sat $17.5M, 3-Day Wkd $41.3M, Est 4-Day Wkd $50M, Est Cume $500M
2. Book Of Eli (Alcon/Warner Bros) NEW [3,111 Theaters]
Fri $11.7M, Sat $12M, 3-Day Wkd $31.6M, Est 4-Day Wkd $37M
3. Lovely Bones (Paramount) Week 6 [2,563 Theaters]
Fri $5.7M, Sat $6.4M, 3-Day Wkd $17M, Est 4-Day Wkd $20M, Est Cume $23M
4. Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Squealquel (Fox) Week 4 [3,246 Theaters]
Fri $2.6M, Sat $5.4M, 3-Day Wkd $11.5M, Est 4-Day Wkd $16M, Est Cume $197M
5. Sherlock Holmes (Warner Bros) Week 4 [3,173 Theaters]
Fri $2.9M, Sat $4.1M, 3-Day Wkd $9.8M, Est 4-Day Wkd $11M, Est Cume $181.4M
6. The Spy Next Door (Lionsgate) NEW [2,924 Theaters]
Fri $2.3M, Sat $4.1M, 3-Day Wkd $9.7M, Est 4-Day Wkd $13M
7. It’s Complicated (Universal) Week 4 [2,673 Theaters]
Fri $2.4M, Sat $3.5M, 3-Day Wkd $7.8M, Est 4-Day Wd $9M, Est Cume $98.9M
8. Leap Year (Universal) Week 2 [2,512 Theaters]
Fri $1.9M, Sat $2.4M, 3-Day Wkd $5.6M, Est 4-day Wkd $7M, Est Cume $18.7M
9. The Blind Side (Warner Bros) Week 9 [2,408 Theaters]
Fri $1.6M, Sat $2.4M, 3-Day Wkd $5.5M, Est 4-Day Wkd $6.7M, Est Cume $228M
10. Up In The Air (Paramount) Week 7 [2,107 Theaters]
Fri $1.5M, Sat $2.4M, 3-Day Wkd $5.4M, Est 4-Day Wkd $6.6M, Est Cume $66M