"Avatar", the new movie by "Titanic" director James Cameron, broke the US record for new releases in December, earning $77.3 million on its debut weekend, Twentieth Century Fox said on Monday.

Previously the studio estimated that the film had earned $73 million, but an especially strong showing Sunday, fuelled by repeat viewers and strong word of mouth, significantly increased the films earnings, despite a strong snowstorm in the eastern US that kept many potential ticket-buyers at home.

The futuristic science fiction epic, shown with new 3D technology that was 12 years in the making, took in an additional $159 million internationally, even though it is yet to be released in lucrative markets like China or Japan.

Fox has not revealed how much the movie cost to produce. But the New York Times estimated that the production and marketing budget combined reached $460 million, not including a $30-million tax credit. With a total take of more than $236 million, the film has already recouped half of its total budget.

"The reported large budget for the film was obviously money well spent as the film is on its way to a potential near billion dollars in global receipts," said Hollywood.com's box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian. "With stunning and groundbreaking visuals in 3-D, the film will continue to generate massive interest around the world." Paul added.