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Maybe James Cameron really is the king of the world after all. A dozen years after the director of Titanic made that famous exclamation at the Academy Awards — after claiming Oscar gold on top of box-office riches for the epic romance and highest-grossing movie of all time — Cameron just might top himself.

His first feature since Titanic, the box-office smash Avatar, could well be on pace to beat the $1.84 billion in worldwide revenue that the earlier film set during its run in late 1997 and early 1998.

Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox, Avatar hit the vaunted $1 billion mark in combined domestic and overseas revenue in just 17 days, a pace believed to be unprecedented, even for Titanic. (Fox is owned by News Corp., which also is the parent of MarketWatch, publisher of this report.)

The story of humans invading a distant planet to mine a plentiful supply of a rare mineral, Avatar has tongues wagging over its groundbreaking special effects. What’s even more jaw-dropping for box-office watchers is the “legs,” or staying power, that the film has maintained. Avatar didn’t set any records during its first weekend in theaters after debuting Dec. 18. It brought in $77 million in domestic receipts, healthy though not astounding.

But it lost less than 2 percent of that business Christmas weekend, and dipped only another 10 percent during New Year’s weekend. Most films are considered to be healthy if they manage anything less than a 50 percent drop from their first weekend to their second. Dipping just more than 11 percent from the first to the third is unheard of, according to Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office analysis for

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