Posted by: Jeff | January 28, 2010

The Avatar Behemoth

In 38 days, James Cameron’s latest sci-fi epic has garnered the $1.843 billion it took Titanic 41 weeks to amass, setting a new all-time boxoffice world record. Scott Mendelson is staggered, as am I.

We can argue all we want about 3D prices and general ticket price inflation, but this is an incredible feat in in filmgoing era, let alone our splintered generation.  Today’s audiences have far more entertainment options to keep them out of the theaters.  Back in Christmas 1997 and Winter 1998, the Internet was barely in its infancy, bootlegs of any kind were a non-factor, and DVDs barely on the radar.  Just as no one expects the season finale of Lost to match the numbers for the finale of MASH, today’s moviegoers are far more divided and have far more entertainment options that they did even twelve years ago.  I don’t think anyone thought Titanic‘s worldwide record would be topped within a generation.  No one thought it would be done so quickly, and by the same filmmaker no less.  This is absolutely astonishing, all the more so for the fact that it’s not anywhere close to being finished.  While the domestic numbers may be curbed by the inevitable loss of IMAX and 3D screens, the international numbers (which rely far less on 3D and IMAX theaters) have no real ceiling at this point.  Avatar has grossed $1.304 billion in overseas markets alone.  There are only four other movies that have ever grossed even half that in overseas receipts.  Avatar has today grossed $1.859 billion in global grosses.  There are only eight other films that have grossed at least $929 million worldwide, or half that number. Who knows where this movie will stop?  Amazing…

I remember reading an early script review predicting that, while it was a serviceable if not great sci-fi action/adventure, American audiences would hate Avatar because it was a lefty eco-fable, and those never play well. And while what we’re talking about above are worldwide figures, Avatar has topped $560 million domestically, which puts it within striking distance of Titanic’s $600 million domestic pull. I’ll defer to wiser heads on the question of whether it will overtake Titanic in that realm as well, but my sense is it’s a real possibility.

Now, one could argue that Avatar’s sheer visual spectacle simply overwhelms whatever qualms audiences may have about its underlying political assumptions, or that the movie is just so damn schlocky that those political assumptions have no real teeth. Both seem plausible to me, but I’m still inclined to say the “Americans don’t truck with eco-fables” theory is officially busted.



  1. My wager is that Avatar will pass up Titanic’s domestic gross toward the end of next weekend, or at the end of the week where it will be nominated for a load of Academy Awards.

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