'Avatar' Takes Flight With $232.2 Million Weekend

LOS ANGELES -- James Cameron launched his science-fiction epic "Avatar" into a safe orbit as the costly film soared to No. 1 with $73 million domestically and $159.2 million overseas, for a $232.2 million worldwide total.

With that big a start, distributor 20th Century Fox was quick to proclaim it made a good investment with the estimated $400 million spent to make and market the film, which is Cameron's first narrative feature since 1997's "Titanic," the king of modern blockbusters.

"Absolutely. No question," said Chris Aronson, head of distribution for the studio, which reported stellar reaction in exit polls from audiences after seeing "Avatar." "The word of mouth is something that I don't know I've ever seen in this business before."

"Avatar" was a test case for the future of digital 3-D projection, which until now has been a hit with audiences mainly on animated family films.

The film fell short of the record for December debuts of $77.2 million set two years ago by Will Smith's "I Am Legend." But it did break the record for a film opening in 3-D, previously held by last summer's "Up" with $68.1 million.

"What they spent on this movie was totally justified, and they're going to more than earn it back," said Paul Dergarabedian, box-office analythe way people think about movies, the way they see movies, what they want to see in movies."

Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at U.S. and Canadian theaters, according to Hollywood.com. Final figures will be released Monday.

1. "Avatar," $73 million.
2. "The Princess and the Frog," $12.2 million.
3. "The Blind Side," $10 million.
4. "Did You Hear About the Morgans?", $7 million.
5. "The Twilight Saga" New Moon," $4.4 million.
6. "Invictus," $4.2 million.
7. "Disney's a Christmas Carol," $3.4 million.
8. "Up in the Air," $3.1 million.
9. "Brothers," $2.6 million.
10. "Old Dogs," $2.3 million.