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Fox says will make profit with sci-fi epic Avatar

 Visitors wear 3D glasses as they watch a preview of the upcoming movie
Visitors wear 3D glasses as they watch a preview of the upcoming movie 'Avatar' during the 40th annual Comic Con Convention in San Diego July 23, 2009. The convention runs July 23-26. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
— image credit: Reuters

By Ingrid Melander

ATHENS (Reuters) - 20th Century Fox will make a profit with James Cameron's 3D sci-fi epic "Avatar," Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman Jim Gianopulos said in an interview, and dismissed reports the movie cost $500 million as "ridiculous."

Blending computer-generated characters and live actors, Avatar tells the story of a former Marine who infiltrates the native Na'vi people on a far-away planet to help corporations extract a mineral, but ends up fighting for the alien race.

It will be released worldwide on December 18, in the competitive holiday season.

Media reports have estimated the bill for the movie, including marketing costs, at about $500 million, and some have argued it could be hard for Fox, owned by media conglomerate News Corp, to make a profit.

"That's a ridiculous number," Gianopulos told Reuters on Monday during a visit to Greece. "It has actually no relationship to the actual cost of the movie."

"People keep repeating a number, which was as if you added the cost of building the studio 80 years ago to the cost of Avatar."

Gianopulos said the actual budget was some way away from the reported figure, but he declined to give a specific number.

"The movie was quite expensive, there is no question about that. But viewed now, from the perspective of its completion and having seen it, it's a formidable work and money well spent," said Gianopulos, who chairs Fox's movie and television production together with Tom Rothman.

3D SCREENS

Based on an idea Oscar-winning director Cameron developed 15 years ago, at a time when technology was not yet ready, Avatar does not enjoy the kind of fan base that comes with movie adaptations of novels like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.

But asked if the movie would make a profit Gianopulos said: "I have no doubt about that."

He said the film would play on over 8,000 3D screens worldwide and more than double that number in 2D. Movie goers generally pay a significant premium for tickets to 3-D pictures.

Gianopulos said private equity companies Dune Entertainment and Ingenious Media were invested to a substantial degree in sharing the cost of the movie, but gave no figure.

The New York Times, quoting unnamed sources briefed on the film's economics, said the companies would pick up 60 percent of the production budget.

The global crisis had in some ways benefited the movie industry by boosting box office receipts, he said, with the public looking for relatively cheap forms of entertainment.

The outlook for DVD and Blu-ray sales has been less positive, although Gianopulos said declines in the sector were not as bad as some figures suggested.

"There has been a drop in the volume of DVD sales," he said.

"It's off about 13 percent, I think ... but the rental of DVDs is up because people are staying home more and renting more, so as a result it's a single digit decrease in the overall revenue, which is bearable when you are in a crisis this bad."

News Corp reported a higher-than-expected quarterly profit earlier this month as gains at its film divisions and Fox cable network helped offset declines at TV stations and newspapers.

The company's movie operations posted a 56 percent gain in operating income.

(Editing by Mike Collett-White and Paul Casciato)

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