NEW YORK -- It was a memorable and merry Christmas in Hollywood as moviegoers shattered box-office records, responding in droves to a diverse array of high-profile releases over the holiday weekend.
The estimated $278 million in weekend box-office revenue broke the previous record of roughly $253 million set in July 2008, the weekend "The Dark Knight" was released.
A diverse group of films drew throngs to the multiplexes: James Cameron's "Avatar" pushed strongly into its second week while "Sherlock Holmes," "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel" and "It's Complicated" all opened.
"Avatar," the 3-D epic, topped them all, earning $75 million for 20th Century Fox, according to studio estimates Sunday. Remarkably, that was only a 3 percent drop from its opening weekend total of $77.4 million. (Blockbusters typically drop 30-50 percent in the second weekend.) In its 10 days of release, "Avatar" has made $212 million domestically - and could be on its way to a worldwide gross of over $1 billion.
"This thing is going to be playing and playing, I can tell you that," said Bert Livingston, 20th Century Fox distribution executive. "There's a lot of business out there. Everybody's got good movies out."
In second was "Sherlock Holmes," Guy Ritchie's reboot of the franchise with Robert Downey Jr. starring as Arthur Conan Doyle's detective. The Warner Bros. film opened with a weekend total of $65.4 million, including a record Christmas Day debut of $24.9 million.
It was a start that seemed sure to pave the way for sequels. Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros., called the result "sensational."
"Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel," which opened Wednesday, took in $50.2 million on the weekend and $77.1 million in its five days of release. The film, also from Fox, earned an impressive $18.8 million on Wednesday alone. The strong start suggested that "Squeakquel" was likely to surpass its 2007 original, which made $217 million.
Also opening was Nancy Meyer's "It's Complicated," the romantic comedy starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. With an audience 72 percent female, the Universal film took in $22.1 million, a solid debut.
The sparkling Christmas weekend results spelled good things for all the films in release in the coming week - one of the most lucrative of the year.
"We all know what next week means to the industry. This is ... huge," said Nikki Rocco, head of distribution for Universal. "Christmas is past us. No more shopping, no more returning. College kids are home. ... I'm so optimistic about what the next weekend holds for us."
Said Livingston: "Starting this Monday, every day is a Saturday."
Two films with Oscar aspirations also released wide over the weekend: Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air" (Paramount) and Rob Marshall's "Nine" (Weinstein Co.).
"Up in the Air," which has some of the best awards momentum, grossed $11.