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Avatar Opening Weekend: $27.0M Fri / $25.65M Sat / $20.35M Sun — $73M Estimated Weekend [$232.18M Worldwide]

It looks like the Blizzard in the East will affect the box office fortunes of James Cameron’s Avatar.  The 3D sci-fi epic grossed an estimated $25.65M on Saturday, a drop of about 5% from its opening day gross of $27M (which included $3.54M from midnight Friday grosses).

20th Century Fox is projecting Sunday’s receipts to come in at $20.35M, which would result in an opening weekend gross of $73M.  That’s below upgraded tracking projections heading into the weekend ($80-85M), but ahead of initial internal expectations by the studio ($50-60M).

Update: Overseas grosses were strong with an estimated 159.18 million bringing the total worldwide cume to $232.18M worldwide, making it the biggest original — non-sequel, non-adaptation — release ever.  More details after the jump.

Unless there’s a big boost on Sunday or numbers for Friday and Saturday are revised upwards, Avatar will finish as the #2 best-grossing December opening of all time with $73.0M (below I Am Legend’s $77.2M  but above The Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King’s $72.6M).

Never-the-less, this is a very solid start for the impressively put-together film from James Cameron.  I saw it opening day at midnight in 3D and the experience was amazing.  According to Fox, word of mouth is through the roof — it earned an A or A+ CinemaScore across all demos — and the studio expects the film to hold strong throughout the course of its run.

Domestically, Avatar opened in 3,452 theaters (2,023 were 3D–of which 179 were IMAX 3D) and played at about 7,000 total screens. Overseas, the film played at about 17,000 screens, with more than 5,300 3D/IMAX 3D screens.  Overseas grosses are estimated at $159.18 million, for a worldwide opening weekend tally of $232.18 million / #9 all time for worldwide opening weekend.

Article updated with updated data.

Souces: Box Office, Box Office Mojo, Deadline and Variety