James Cameron did not get his chance to save the world from a rogue oil well, but it is beginning to look as though he rescued Hollywood’s box office ecosystem from total disaster this year.
Mr. Cameron’s “Avatar,” the 3-D science fiction epic released by 20th Century Fox in December 2009, has remained the biggest event of 2010, having taken in more than $465 million of its $749 million domestic box office this year, according to Hollywood.com’s box office service.
The domestic box office has been soft, as movies like “Sex and the City 2,” “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” “Get Him to the Greek” and “Killers” all posted unimpressive openings.
Total attendance for the year is down an estimated 2.74 percent, to 561.9 million admissions, even while ticket price inflation has increased revenue 3.65 percent, to an estimated $4.5 billion.
Subtract “Avatar,” however, and attendance would be down 12.9 percent, and revenue would be off 7.1 percent, according to Hollywood.com.
Paul Dergarabedian, the president of Hollywood.com’s box office division, argues that “Avatar” did not edge other movies aside, but actually helped expand ticket sales for films that immediately followed it, like “Clash of the Titans” and “Alice in Wonderland,” by generating new excitement about 3-D viewing.
“I just don’t think it was displacing anything,” Mr. Dergarabedian said, when asked if “Avatar” sales would simply have gone to another picture.
“The Book of Eli,” an R-rated action film released by Warner Brothers behind “Avatar,” did just fine, with about $95 million in ticket sales, he said. But with Hollywood now caught in a backwash, the question becomes: Where is the next big thing?
Mr. Dergarabedian said the best bets, in his view, were: “The Karate Kid,” opening on Friday; “Toy Story 3,” on June 18; “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” on June 30; and “Inception,” on July 16.