The opening for the costly sci-fi film fell short of industry forecasts in the $85 million range. But the News Corp unit said the tally beat its internal projections, and noted that an enormous snow storm along the East Coast crippled business for all movies.
The weekend haul ranks as merely the sixth-biggest of the year in the United States and Canada. The 2009 record was set last month by "The Twilight Saga: New Moon," with $143 million. The all-time record of $158 million was set last year by "The Dark Knight."
On the other hand, ticket sales for "Avatar" were inflated by premium pricing for screenings in venues equipped with 3-D technology. Such venues accounted for 59 percent of the total cinema count and 71 percent of sales, Fox said.
The film also earned $159.2 million from 106 foreign markets. Individual-market tallies were not immediately available.
"Avatar" garnered almost as much attention for its reported budget of at least $300 million budget as for its eco-friendly tale of a soldier from Earth sent to infiltrate an alien race of 10-foot (3 meter)-tall blue people in order to save the polluted planet.
It marks Cameron's first dramatic feature since 1997's "Titanic," the biggest film of all time before accounting for inflation. He spent the intervening years waiting for moviemaking technology to catch up with his vision for the follow-up. Production took two years.
The film won breathless reviews from critics. "You've never experienced anything like it, and neither has anyone else," said the Los Angeles Times.
(Reporting by Dean Goodman; editing by Doina Chiacu).