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SATURDAY PM/SUNDAY AM: Increasingly, the Avatar phenomenon of breaking box office record after box office record will have to carry an asterisk. avatar bigger posterBecause the fact remains that higher 3D ticket prices (as much as $18 in some big U.S. cities) is causing James Cameron’s big budget technopic to  cream the 2D competition. So I won’t join in the hoopla associated with Avatar kicking Batman’s butt Saturday. Yes, it did speed past The Dark Knight‘s $533.3 million as the 2nd highest grossing film of all time at the domestic box office after just 37 days in release. And right now, Avatar‘s cume through Sunday is $552.7 million — just shy of the No. 1 biggest grossing domestic film ever Titanic‘s $600.8M. However, when adjusted for ticket price inflation, Avatar is still only 26th on the all time biggest domestic list. Meanwhile, 20th Century Fox said Avatar is getting tantalizingly closer to Titanic‘s worldwide record as the top grossing film of all time: $1.841B to $1.842B set back in 1997. That includes the $1.288B from overseas. Seriously, given all these stats, box office is becoming just like a baseball scorecard. And here’s another: playing in 2,897 North American theaters, Avatar racked up its 6th straight weekend as North America’s No. 1 movie in theaters.

Sony Pictures’s Screen Gems opened its modestly budgeted (pegged at $26M) supernatural action thriller Legion to 2,476 venues this weekend. Directed by Scott Stewart and starring Paul Bettany, the film had widespread word of mouth and a visually arresting ad campaign. That helped it do almost exactly what Sony hoped it would for the weekend — $18.2M, good enough for 2nd place. And, although Hollywood predicted Fox’s The Tooth Fairy would debut much bigger, the concensus is that its weekend of only $14.5M from 3,344 dates came down to Dwayne Johnson’s inability on this PG kiddie pic to appeal to adults like he usually does. And that one-sheet? Yuck!

Moonves sadBut the real story of the weekend has to be the total collapse of CBS Films’ first output, Extraordinary Measures. This is despite an aggressive and expensive TV ad campaign for a pic no one in their right mind could think would make a dime. Only occasionally do I see Hollywood moguls this gleeful about the failure of one of their own. But almost every major studio pointed out to me that, on the even of the pic’s release, it had zero positives on Rotten Tomatoes. (It wound up with only 26%) “CBS enters the business with a bust,” one rival studio exec emailed me. “And the few people CBS got to show up were very old: 85% over age 35, including 62% over age 50.” None of his peers and even pals thought CBS Inc chief Les Moonves should have ever started a vanity film division in the first place. There was resentment, jealousy, and in the end gloating galore after Friday’s disastrous numbers came in. Even more so now for Extraordinary Measure‘s dismal $7M weekend in 2,549 runs. This is way worse for Moonves than the pic’s stars Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser because Les, a former actor, spent the weeks leading up to the melodrama’s release arrogantly boasting how personally involved he’d been tweaking the film — like reordering the sequence of certain scenes and cutting others. Even the pic’s marketing was treacly. Given his public humiliation, let’s see if Moonves still intends to make 4 to 6 star-driven films a year costing up to $50 million apiece.

Top 10 For Friday and Saturday and weekend:
1. Avatar (Fox) Week 6 [3,141 Theaters]
Friday $9.1M, Saturday $16.4M, Wkd $36M (-16%), Cume $552.7M
2. Legion (Sony) NEW [2,476 Theaters] 
Friday $6.7M, Saturday $7.1M, Wkd $18.2M
3. Book of Eli (Warner Bros) Week 2 [3,111 Theaters]
Friday $5.0M (-57), Saturday $7.5M, Wkd $17M (-48%), Cume $62M.
4. The Tooth Fairy (Fox) NEW [3,344 Theaters]
Friday $3.8M, Saturday $6.6M, Wkd $14.5M
5. Lovely Bones (Paramount) Week 7 [2,571 Theaters]
Friday $2.8M, Saturday $3.9M, Wkd $8.8M, Cume $31.6M
6. Sherlock Holmes (Warner Bros) Week 5 [2,670 Theaters]
Friday $1.9M, Saturday $3.3M, Wkd $7.1M, Est Cume $191.5M
7. Extraordinary Measures (CBS Films) NEW [2,549 Theaters]
Friday $2.1M, Saturday $2.8M, Wkd $7M
8. Alvin & The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (Fox) Week 5 [2,973 Theaters]
Friday $1.4M, Est Wkd $6.5M, Est Cume $204.2M
9. It’s Complicated (Universal) Week 5 [2,301 Theaters]
Friday $1.7M, Saturday $2.7M, Wkd $6.1M, Cume $98.6M
10. The Blind Side (Warner Bros) Week 10 [1,932 Theaters]
Friday $1.2M, Saturday $1.9M, Wkd $4.5M, Cume $234M