A robust $54.6m hold over the four-day Martin Luther King Day public holiday in the fifth weekend saw Fox’s Avatar overtake Star Wars to become the third biggest North American release in history.

Nestling behind The Dark Knight’s $533.3m on $505.1m James Cameron’s sci-fi epic sets sail for Titanic’s$600.8m domestic high water mark.

The Book Of Eli, a post-apocalyptic thriller starring Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman and Mila Kunis, opened well through Warner Bros in second place on $38m.

Paramount-DreamWorks’ The Lovely Bones from Peter Jackson expanded wide in its sixth weekend and climbed from outside the top 20 to third place on $20.5m for a $21m running total.

Lionsgate opened the family action film The Spy Next Door with Jackie Chan in fifth place on $13m.

After four weekends both Fox’s Alvin And The Chipmunks sequel and Warner Bros’ Sherlock Holmes are closing in on $200m and stand at $196.1m and $181.9m, respectively. The Blind Side, another Warner Bros release, continued its remarkable run, adding $6.5m for $227.7m after nine weekends.

Next weekend’s wide releases are: Fox’s family fantasy Tooth Fairy starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Julie Andrews; CBS Films’ first release, the drama Extraordinary Measures with Brendan Fraser and Harrison Ford; and Screen Gems’ horror Legion, with Paul Bettany and Dennis Quaid.

Estimated Top 10 North America Jan 15-18 2010

Film (Dist) / Est wkd gross / Est total to date

1 (1) Avatar (Fox) Fox Int’l $54.6m $505.1m

2 (-) The Book Of Eli (Warner Bros) Summit Int’l/SPRI $32.8m $38m

3 (-) The Lovely Bones (Paramount-DreamWorks) PPI $20.5m $21m

4 (3) Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (Fox) Fox Int’l $15m $196.1m

5 (-) The Spy Next Door (Lionsgate) Lionsgate $9.6m $13m

6 (2) Sherlock Holmes (Warner Bros) WBPI $11.7m $181.9m

7 (5) It’s Complicated (Universal) UPI $9.1m $89.7m

8 (6) Leap Year (Universal) UPI/Spyglass $6.9m $18.6m

9 (8) Up In The Air (Paramount) PPI $6.7m $6m

10 (7) The Blind Side (Warner Bros) WBPI $6.5m $227.7m