Avatar is projected to become the highest grossing worldwide IMAX release this week as the opening day in China combined with global holdovers move the tally towards the $71m mark set by The Polar Express.

The film grossed approximately $12.7m over the weekend and boosted the tally to $70.1m as Avatar passed The Dark Knight’s $65m haul to become the highest initial worldwide release.

The Polar Express reached $71m after several re-releases, however Avatar will overtake that today and is projected to cross $100m later this month. The film grossed more than $206,000 from 11 Chinese screens on its January 4 opening day.

Avatar currently stands at $21m internationally from 82 screens and $49.1m from 179 North American screens. The film added $8.7m domestically over the weekend, accounting for 12% of the total $68.3m domestic weekend gross from 3% of the screens.

The international take was $4m and that amount included a record international single day on Saturday of $1.425m.

“There is a momentum on this movie that is very hard to quantify,” IMAX Filmed Entertainment’s chairman and president Greg Foster said, adding that he has received texts from studio heads unable to get tickets to sold-out shows.

Foster pointed to notable single-screen performances around the world: in 17 days IMAX screens in Taipei have grossed $546,000 and $429,000; $408,000 at the Yongsan site in South Korea; and $460,000 since December 23 at the 109 Cinemas site in Kawasaki, Japan.

In further good news for the company, the extraordinary pace of IMAX ticket sales for Avatar powered IMAX Corporation to its first $100m global box office quarter for the period ending December 31, 2009.

The company said this result marked an approximately 225% increase on the fourth quarter from a year before, when global box office amounted to roughly $31m.

Approximately $54m of the $100m came from Avatar in 2009. Gross box office of Hollywood films shown on 230 IMAX screens around the world in 2009 climbed 108% to a record $270m compared to $130m in fiscal 2008.

2009 also saw the release of IMAX Corporation’s original documentary Under The Sea 3D produced in partnership with Warner Bros, which went on to gross $25m worldwide. IMAX’s next original title, Hubble 3D, was also made in partnership with Warner Bros and goes on limited release in March before expanding wide in April.

The 2010 Hollywood slate thus far features: Alice In Wonderland with Walt Disney Studios; How To Train Your Dragon and Shrek Forever After, both with Dreamworks Animation; Toy Story 3 with Walt Disney Studios; Twilight Saga: Eclipse with Summit Entertainment; Inception with Warner Bros; and Tron Legacy with Walt Disney Studios.