3D Avatar becomes No. 2 top-grossing movie of all time, still climbing

Second only to James Cameron's other opus, Titanic, Avatar pulls in $1.1 billion worldwide.

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    Audiences watch the 3D film 'Avatar' through special glasses at a cinema in China. Foreign ticket sales make up two-thirds of the money 'Avatar' has pulled in.
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Only five movies have ever broken the $1 billion box-office benchmark. Yet the sci-fi 3D epic "Avatar" smashed through in only three weeks.

Just 20 days after its release, James Cameron's new film raked in $1.1 billion worldwide, making it the No. 2 top-grossing film of all time. There's a big gap between second and first place, currently held by Cameron's previous opus "Titanic" at $1.8 billion. But "Avatar" still has several months to sprint ahead.

Curiously, these worldwide numbers hold little correlation to domestic box-office figures. Only one-third of the movie's spoils came from American theaters ($374 million). So, despite its global silver-medal status, "Avatar" is 12th on the US-only list, according to boxofficemojo.com. And, if you account for inflation, "Avatar" dips to 85th. Still, remember that "Avatar" has plenty of time to catch up.

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The movie's stellar success concludes what was already a great year for 3D films. Four of the 10 top-grossing movies in 2009 were screened in 3D. The allure of an extra dimension convinced more than a few video-rental fans to open up their wallets for a ticket and pair of polarized glasses – including this blogger. (And, of course, most theaters charge a premium for 3D movies, boosting a film's box-office numbers.)

But will these early profits translate into similar blockbusters on DVD? Despite the best efforts of pitchmen at this week's Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas, very few families can play 3D movies at home. Will a flat version of "Avatar" attract the same following? The good news for studios is that "Up," "Monsters Vs. Aliens," and "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" – the 3D movies that cracked 2009's top-grossing list for theaters – also broke into the top ten for DVD sales.

There's little chance that 3D TVs will become mainstream by the time "Avatar" hits store shelves as a disc. But the movie will join the growing list of reasons to scoop up a new television. With ESPN and Discovery announcing 3D cable networks and Blu-ray recently settling on a high-definition 3D format, perhaps this really will be the year that 3D TVs take off.

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