Reclaiming the top spot at the North American box office Saturday with a $17.3 million performance, James Cameron 3D epic "Avatar" has already passed the $1.5 billion mark globally with half of the four-day Martin Luther King Day weekend yet to be tallied.
According to studio estimates, "Avatar" will finish atop the weekend box office for the fifth consecutive weekend, taking in a projected $41.3 million for the three-day period and over $54 million for the four-day. It's weekend-to-weekend drop is practically nill at less than 3 percent.
The Fox release is expected to pass the $500 million Monday. And with $972.2 million in foriegn totals going into the weekend, it will have also easily surpassed $1.5 billion abroad.
Premiering in second place, Warner's "Book of Eli" is projected to gross $31.6 million for the three-day and close to $40 million for the complete four-day period. That's slightly above projections for the Alcon Entertainment-produced post-apocalyptic movie, which stars Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman.
"I'm very proud of these guys for bringing us another big film right on top of 'Blind Side,'" said Warner distribution president Dan Fellman. "That's two big films in a row. These are hard-working guys who deserve their success."
In third place, Paramount's "The Lovely Bones" is projectd to gross $17.1 million for the three-day and over $20 million for the four day, a nice recovery for the Peter Jackson film that seemed dead in the water after a month of limited runs and ho-hum reviews.
Re-invented as a murder mystery and targeted towards teen girls before its wide opening to 2,550 locations Friday, "Bones" hit its mark, registering an audience that was 72 percent female and almost 40 percent below the age of 20, according to Paramount data.
Also debuting this weekend, Jackie Chan family movie "The Spy Next Door" is on pace to meet pre-release expectations, despite horrible reviews. The film, distributed by Lionsgate via output deal with Relativity Media, should finish the four-day weekend with close to $13 million.
Here's the estimate for the three-day weekend period through Sunday. (Final four-day results will be released Monday.)
Avatar ($41.3 mil.)
Book of Eli ($31.6 mil.)
The Lovely Bones ($17.1 mil.)
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel ($11.5 mil.)
Sherlock Holmes ($9.8 mil.)
The Spy Next Door ($9.7 mil.)
It's Complicated ($7.6 mil.)
Leap Year ($5.8 mil.)
The Blind Side ($5.6 mil.)
Up in the Air ($5.5 mil.)
Overall, according to one studio's estimate, the overall weekend box office will finish down about 12 percent from last year's Martin Luther King Day four-day market, which was led by such stallwarts as "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," "My Bloody Valentine 3D" and "Hotel for Dogs."