Fueled by a Golden Globe nomination for best drama, near-universal critical praise, and positive buzz, Avatar is picking up steam in advance of its Dec. 18 opening. Hundreds of theaters have scheduled midnight screenings for Thursday night, and more than 400 weekend shows have already sold out. Though that doesn’t approach the breathless anticipation that swept The Twilight Sage: New Moon to a record opening, healthy online pre-sales bode well for director James Cameron’s pricy 3D sci-fi epic.

At, Avatar ticket orders have accelerated in recent days, and “people are definitely looking to see it in 3D,” says CEO Joel Cohen. Approximately 90 percent of MovieTickets’ pre-sale tix have been purchased for 3D and IMAX showings.”This could really be a pivotal movie for the entire industry,” says Cohen. “This is the first real big blockbuster movie than many people can see in 3D. [The technology] wasn’t an afterthought.” is witnessing a similar surge, driven by male buyers making approximately 70 percent of the pre-sale orders. But a Fandango survey of 2,493 Avatar ticketholders indicates that the film’s love story could broaden its appeal: Two times as many men intend to bring a female companion to the movie compared to those who are planning to see the film with three or more male friends. “This seems to imply that it could be a date-movie — and not just for the Watchmen crowd,” says Fandango rep Harry Medved. “I also think part of the anticipation is due to the fact that Cameron is presenting an original piece of storytelling that’s not based on a TV show, book or previous movie. Moviegoers are hungry for fresh fare — just look at District 9 and The Hangover.”

Meanwhile an AMC Entertainment spokesman tells EW: “Right now, Avatar is selling well, and is on about the same pace as we saw with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. New Moon and Harry Potter were selling approx. five times higher than Avatar is currently, but in comparing it to Transformers, that film also made $400M. As far as 2D/3D comparison, we’ve seen approx. 75-80 percent of our sales on the 3D IMAX side so far, indicating guests are definitely looking forward to experiencing this state-of-the-art film in the largest, realistic format possible. Certainly as the film draws near, we expect advance sales to increase, culminating in day-of sales for our opening midnight showings.”

Photo Credit: Fox