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‘Airbender’ Sequel? No Greenlight Yet, but Bet on It

After big $69.3 million debut, Paramount is mum on follow-up plans, but earlier decision to go forth with ”G.I. Joe“ would seem to indicate there will be one

The solid $69.3 million box-office debut of “The Last Airbender” has, for now, ended dour pre-release speculation about director M. Night Shyamalan’s career.

But did the pricey $150 million PG fantasy film perform well enough to accomplish Paramount’s primary goal of launching a multi-film franchise that can be leveraged for merchandise sales?

The jury is still out, with Paramount officials not commenting Tuesday when asked about a possible sequel.

Rival-studio officials, however, think Paramount needs more data in order to make a decision.

“They’re probably going to wait to see what their mid-week numbers are and how big a drop it has this weekend,” said one official.

A week-to-week drop of 50 percent or less would bode well for a film that was reviled by virtually every critic in America. Although, Paramount will likely have to struggle to sustain “Airbender’s” 3D screen count this weekend, with Universal’s “Despicable Me” entering a multi-dimensional exhibition market that also includes “Toy Story 3.”

“They had a good opening, but they’re probably going to want to wait for a worldwide number before going through with a sequel,” added another rival-studio distribution executive.

Certainly, solid international play would help, too, although “Airbender” – which rolls out to a small number of countries this weekend, including Russia, France and Taiwan – won’t be completely unfurled abroad until late-September.

Still, based on the studio’s decision to greenlight a follow-up to “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” last year, continuing on with “Airbender” – an adaptation of Viacom sibling cable channel Nickelodeon’s hit “Avatar” cartoon series – would seem likely.

“G.I. Joe” was produced for $175 million and opened to slightly less than “Airbender” over its first five days last August ($67.1 million). Reviews for “Joe” were poor, although not quite as bad as they were for “Airbender.”

“‘Airbender’ pretty much proved it’s review proof,” noted a rival-studio official. “And Paramount is a studio that needs franchises.”