CS Soapbox: Why Avatar 2 Will Break the $3 Billion Mark
Can you believe over a year has passed since Avengers: Endgame stormed into theaters and broke practically every box office record there was? Finales have a tendency to break the bank on opening weekend, but they usually die down pretty quick. Remember when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows racked up a $169 million opening weekend and then tumbled 72% with $47 million the following week? The film was still a massive hit, just insanely front loaded.
Endgame, on the other hand, opened with a whopping $357 million and just kept going. Despite that lofty debut, it managed to bring in another $147 million the following weekend (down just 58%) and another $63 million the weekend after that until it totaled $858 million by the end of its domestic theatrical run. (Not enough to beat Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which tops the list of domestic earners with $936 million, but still mighty impressive.) Long story short: people liked what Marvel cooked up for its big finale and kept coming back for more.
Which brings us to the meat of this article: Avatar 2. The long-in-the-works sequel from self proclaimed king of the world James Cameron remains a long way out on the schedule — currently slated for a December 2021 release — but will start ramping up its marketing campaign soon. Should the date stick, I imagine we’d get a teaser by Christmas, maybe even Thanksgiving (a la The Force Awakens), which would open the dam for all those “Nobody gives a shit about Avatar” articles that will surely flood the web over the ensuing year.
I say BS. Not only will audiences flock to Avatar 2, I think it has the potential to be the first film to cross the $3 billion threshold. I have a little data to back up my claim. Much of my prediction boils down to a gut feeling. Plus, James Cameron has the Midas touch when it comes to crafting blockbuster films that cater to the masses — and he’s had over a decade to craft a truly awesome follow-up.
The original Avatar had a fairly average opening weekend, grossing just $77 million domestically. While that number was good-ish, consider that Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes opened to $66 million the following weekend. Here’s the thing: Avatar grossed another $75 million in its second weekend — a drop of just 1.8% — then another $68 million the weekend after that (-9.4%) followed by a $50 million take (-26.6%), and $43 million (-14.9%) in the weeks after that. In its sixth weekend, Avatar actually jumped up to $54 million. It lingered around the $25-30 million for about five weeks (and even jumped up again in its tenth week in theaters) before finally losing steam around mid-February. Though, it lingered in theaters until August and eventually amassed $749 million.
Mighty impressive for a film that failed to eclipse the $100 million mark. Like Endgame, people simply liked Avatar and kept coming back for more, though its success was never guaranteed.
Even James Cameron was skeptical of his fantasy epic’s box office potential and didn’t think it would beat Titanic’s astronomical record-breaking haul. In early December he told MTV.com, “I don’t think it’s realistic to try and topple ‘Titanic’ off its perch.” The director changed his tune a month later, telling the trade “It’s gonna happen. It’s just a matter of time.”
The big takeaway here is that people loved Avatar when it hit theaters. And they loved it when it hit Blu-ray too. According to The Numbers, Avatar ranks just behind Frozen as the best-selling Blu-ray of all time with 7,480,957 copies sold which equates to $220 million in revenue. For comparison’s sake, The Force Awakens sits at No. 5 with just under 6 million units sold ($148 million gross). Of course, times have changed. People aren’t buying as many Blu-rays these days — Endgame sold just 3 million units — with so many digital options available. But still … Avatar was a massive hit with audiences, and currently sitting on shelves in a majority of households around the world.
Yet, the online community insists audiences don’t want or need a second Avatar film. Rubbish.
AVATAR IN POP CULTURE
Avatar was indeed an enormous hit, but also made a cultural impact about the size of a baby viperwolf. Meaning, once the film left theaters and sold all of those Blu-rays, people just sort of … moved on. Fox Studios attempted to expand the Avatar universe via video games and toys — no doubt expecting a huge financial gain from merchandising alone — but such attempts proved pointless. When was the last time you saw a Jake Sully action figure in Target or Wal-Mart? Hell, when was the last time you actually watched Avatar?
Cameron teamed with Disney to produce Pandora — The World of Avatar at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, which was a huge success. People continue to remember the Avatar experience, even if the film no longer resonates in the public psyche.
My family enjoys Avatar every now and again. Usually on a rainy day. The film still works. Visually, Avatar remains one of the great achievements of modern cinema with special effects that trump more recent blockbusters, including those produced by Marvel. The biggest flaw with the film remains its fairly pedestrian storyline and weak script. Though, to be fair, with a production budget set somewhere north of $230 million, Fox couldn’t afford to go too bonkers with a film about blue cat people who mate via tail-to-tail contact.
As such, I think Avatar’s flaws came out in force once audiences got a good look at it on smaller screens. Cameron’s monumental scope and incredible 3D simply don’t translate very well to a 47-inch TV, which is the average size (on the higher end) for most Americans. In fact, even I only started to revisit the film once my home theater was finally put together.
Avatar is a grand theatrical experience along the lines of Dunkirk and 2001: A Space Odyssey, what with its larger-than-life visuals, incredible special FX, James Horner’s beautiful score, and the extravagant action scenes. The destruction of Hometree sequence remains a masterclass in spectacle; gigantic in scope and breathtaking in execution — in the theater. On TV, with basic sound, it’s just a big goddamned tree falling down really slow.
You get the gist.
WHY AVATAR 2 WILL MAKE $3 BILLION
I say all this not to diminish Avatar’s value, but to make this point: people want to experience Pandora the way they experienced it the first time — on the big screen. Avatar 2 will make that experience possible.
Also, after more than a decade of enjoyable though average Marvel films and a recent batch of Star Wars episodes that seemed to do more harm than good for the long-running franchise, I think people will flock to see Cameron’s latest movie for this simple fact: it will revolutionize films in a way we’ve seen before.
Take a look back at Cameron’s filmography. The Terminator. Aliens. The Abyss. Terminator 2: Judgment Day. True Lies. Titanic. Avatar. Every single one of those films pushed the boundaries of cinema. Say what you will about the man, but he certainly knows how to craft a crowd-pleasing spectacle. This is the man who made 12 dives to the actual Titanic wreck site and had his engineer brother, Michael, create a “mobile titanium housing that could protect a 35-millimeter movie camera from the water pressure to and a half miles down and could be operated by remote control from a small submarine,” according to the New York Times. Nowadays, a director would probably just CGI the whole thing.
Cameron doesn’t do anything half-assed. He makes the type of films that entice your weirdo uncle, who only sees two movies per decade, off his couch and into a theater. His films are game changers and will certainly stand out amongst the ho hum collection of rushed-to-theater blockbusters we’ve come to accept over the last decade. If Jurassic World can influence people to purchase $1.6 billion worth of movie tickets, imagine what a competently made film can achieve.
Of course, $3 billion requires a Herculean effort to achieve. In all likelihood, Avatar 2 would need to follow in its predecessor’s footsteps and remain in theaters for a long time to reach such a figure. Even if its opening weekend proves more fruitful.
Then again, the original Avatar topped the all-time worldwide box office for a decade before Endgame took the crown; and even then, the Avengers finale needed 21 previous entries, an enormous following and a re-release to beat the record … by $7 million. In other words, Cameron took an average story and turned it into the biggest film of all time. Imagine what he’ll do with a decade’s worth of prep and a stronger writing team. (Cameron wrote the original Avatar alone but teamed up with Sarah Connor Chronicles writer Josh Friedman for Avatar 2 and — ironically enough — Jurassic World and Planet of the Apes writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver for Avatar 3.) Cameron is a notorious perfectionist. I doubt he’d make a sequel — let alone four — if he felt the story wasn’t really, really good.
And speaking of sequels, Cameron crafted two of the all-time great follow ups. Namely, Aliens, which served as a sequel to Ridley Scott’s classic film Alien; and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, a film many consider one of the greatest blockbusters ever made. I’m ecstatic to see how he expands the storylines for Jake Sully, Neytiri and the like, mainly because it seems like an impossible task. Neither character was particularly primed for more story. But, then again, Sarah Connor was just some waitress, right?
I imagine Avatar 2 will be a lot more front loaded than Avatar mainly based on hype alone. I could see a $200-250 million domestic opening and somewhere along the lines of $800-900 million worldwide. It won’t break any opening weekend records, but, as is the case with all of Cameron’s films, word of mouth will keep it afloat with minimal drops week-to-week.
Yeah, yeah. The nature of movies has changed. People rarely see movies more than once. Films stay in theaters for roughly 2-3 months — and only if the public actually likes them. I get that. Except, Avatar 2 will blow our minds to such an extent that audiences will keep coming back for more.
After waiting more than a decade to properly return to Pandora (in a giant-ass theater), I imagine moviegoers will want to make their next visit last as long as possible.
Plus, consider the powerful impact nostalgia has on audiences. Nostalgia propelled Jon Favreau’s bizarre Lion King remake to $1.7 billion worldwide, and pushed The Force Awakens to its astronomical figure. To say nothing of Disney’s recent string of lifeless remakes that found so much success mostly due to audience love for the original films.
Avatar 2 will not be an average film that audiences can wait to see at home. Everyone will need to see this movie in the same way everyone has to watch Netflix’s Tiger King. Some elements of pop culture must be consumed en masse.
Now, we can debate the merits of another Avatar. Personally, I wish Cameron had directed Alita: Battle Angle or Terminator: Dark Fate instead. Even so, I will happily take another trip to Pandora if only to experience the maestro’s latest and greatest game changer.
I have a feeling, the rest of the world will too.