Back in the day (read: three weeks ago), some people said James Cameron’s weird blue alien movie with its gimmicky 3D effects would flop at the box office. Heck, they had spent so much making this movie and so much marketing it last minute, that there’s no way it would succeed, right? It would never come close to the numbers that Twilight Saga’s New Moon made in November; It wouldn’t even compete against Sherlock Holmes.

Those people were all wrong.

After 17 days, including a December opening weekend record, a record for the largest opening of an original film not based on an existing property (novel, short story) or film (sequel, remake), the biggest second weekend of all time, the biggest third weekend of all time, among many other records, Avatar hit it big amongst critics, fans and the box office; And it’s only the beginning.

Did I mention that it was just 17 days? In 17 days, Avatar has helped James Cameron become the only director ever to have two films cross the $1 billion dollar mark.

Avatar is currently sitting as the 4th highest grossing film of all time, surpassing last year’s The Dark Knight over the weekend. Ahead of it, Cameron’s other money maker in Titanic stands high above the competition in the #1 slot. Between Cameron’s two movies sits Lord of the Rings: Return of the King at #2 and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest at #3 (those are both sequels by the way).

Here’s Box Office Mojo’s chart of the top 5 movies of all time (worldwide):

1.Titanic$1,842,879,955
2.Return of the King$1,119,110,941
3.Dead Man’s Chest$1,066,179,725
4.Avatar$1,018,811,000
5.The Dark Knight$1,001,921,825

Again, this is just after 17 days. Avatar will easily surpass ROTK and the disappointing Pirates of the Caribbean sequel for the #2 slot but it’ll be interesting to see if it keeps it up to pass Cameron’s other movie. If that’s not enough, Avatar will also no doubt be the biggest Blu-ray release to date when it comes to home video. Fox was right in investing in Cameron’s return to cinema and giving him all the time he needed to do it right.

It may be impossible to fairly compare box office earnings with different amounts of theaters screens playing the movie, ticket prices, etc., but that does not take away from the success Avatar has earned thus far.

On that note, we should point out the obvious fact that 3D and IMAX tickets cost more, which are helping the box office take, but there aren’t nearly as many 3D capable screens out there compared to standard format yet. There’s that and the fact that no other 3D film has earned nearly this much. The movie itself is what has kept it consistently making big numbers day after day and three weekends straight. Not many movies have ever had such strong word-of-mouth as this and at my workplace, folks who don’t usually see many films in theaters have made the effort to see this and have come back with praise (and that’s of the 2D version).

I believed Avatar would do well (and debated before, during and after the film’s release about it), but we never expected numbers such as this. If you’re still wondering whether or not to see Avatar (or see it again), here’s a snippet from my last discussion of Avatar‘s record-breaking numbers after its opening weekend:

Avatar is one of the greatest theater-viewing experiences I’ve ever had and something that I needed to see twice to fully appreciate. While some say the story is bland or character development isn’t as strong as could be, don’t buy into that. There’s as good a story and characters here than most films of 2009 (and I watched quite a few movies) and if there is one movie I had to recommend people go see on the big screen more than any other, James Cameron’s Avatar is it. It’s an experience and an event that must be enjoyed on the big screen.

There is no doubt more of a push on those discussions of an Avatar sequel now and I’m excited to see what Cameron will bring next. I expect he’ll take a different direction entirely as we saw with Aliens and Terminator 2 filmed compared to their predecessors, but that won’t be happening just yet; James Cameron has other projects on his plate first.

What do you think of Avatar’s success, and just how far will it go?