Should ‘Avatar’s Box-Office Numbers have an Asterisk Next Them?

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Photo: 20th Century Fox

Avatar‘s first post-holiday weekend saw the film’s largest percentage drop as it still managed to secure the #1 spot at the box-office for the fourth weekend in a row. This coming weekend it takes on The Book of Eli in 3,000+ theaters, The Spy Next Door in 2,800 and the expansion of The Lovely Bones, which will grow to 2,400 theaters. Should it manage to maintain its #1 position it would mean it is the first film to stay atop the box-office for five weeks in a row since The Sixth Sense did it over ten years ago. It would also mean it’s inching closer and closer to overtaking Titanic‘s $600.7 million all-time domestic box-office record.

As of the writing of this article, Avatar is $171.7 million short of Titanic‘s domestic record and has everyone talking $2 billion in worldwide ticket sales, which would best Titanic‘s 13-year reign on that chart as well. Just how long will it take for it to get there, and once it does should we find a bright red asterisk next to its name?

Whether you closely watch Box-Office Mojo’s adjusted for inflation list or not, you realize once Avatar passes Titanic for those #1 spots all-time people are going to refer to it as the #1 box-office earner.

I am not a big fan of discussing box-office records in terms of “adjusted for inflation,” primarily because I am a sports fan and in my eyes a record is a record. However, my argument there gets shot down as soon as the name “Barry Bonds” and the word “steroids” are brought up (Mark McGwire for sure following today’s announcement). Because his record definitely deserves an asterisk if not a 100% dismissal. With Avatar we aren’t only talking about inflation. Aren’t we also talking “steroids” of another sort?

We can quantify $0.50 to $3.00 increases in ticket prices to see the film in 3D or IMAX, a fact that has changed the landscape of box-office positioning. Just look at Box-Office Mojo’s 3D chart, the top seven positions are owned by films from 2009, a year when studios fully realized the advantage of price gouging at the ticket booth.

I jumped over to MovieTickets.com to look at the ticket prices for Avatar in 2D versus Avatar in 3D and IMAX here in Seattle. For a matinee showing the price difference was a measly $0.50, but for regular and IMAX pricing we are talking about a $3.00 jump. An article at Moviefone from this past weekend shows “80 percent of theatrical revenue for the film came from 3-D ticket sales.”

Looking at Avatar‘s current domestic total of $429 million, this means approximately $343 million of that can be attributed to 3D tickets sales. Simplifying things as much as I possibly could, I took the average ticket prices in Seattle — 2D ($9.00) and 3D ($11.75) — and the difference in the two is about $2.75 per ticket (weighted to assume more people attend evening screenings). Using this math it tells me 9.5 million people saw Avatar in 2D and 29.1 million saw it in 3D, which translates to an additional $80.2 million in box-office receipts thanks to 3D and IMAX alone.

Take that into consideration, subtract the 3D steroids from Avatar‘s total and we are looking at a current box-office return of about $348.8 million, which isn’t that bad either and would still place Avatar at the #16 slot on the all-time list, just above The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

Photo: Yahoo

As for that worldwide box-office number you have to read this quote from China Hush:

Avatar ticket prices will go up next week in China because the demand is so great, which means the ticket prices for the movie in IMAX-3D will be the highest in the world! Chinese netizens are complaining that, people in China, where the average income is 20 times lower than the U.S., have to pay three times as much as the people in the U. S for the same ticket.

What are those ticket prices? Well according to that article, ticket prices were originally 180 yuan ($26.36) in Shanghai and 160 yuan ($23.43) in Beijing and will be jumping to 200 yuan ($29.29) in Shanghai and are already as high as 430 yuan ($62.98) in Dongguan. RopeofSilicon Box-Office Oracle, Laremy Legel, tells me during his trip to Japan he found the ticket price for all movies was $20.

Of course, this leads to the old bugaboo – inflation.

The United States has seen 35% inflation since 1997. Box-Office Mojo reports the average ticket price in 1997 was $4.59 and in 2009 we are looking at $7.35. The best part about that is their average ticket price is still $1.15 cheaper than the $8.50 matinee price here in Seattle. On their adjusted for inflation chart Avatar sits at #58, a mere $1,049,272,700 shy of Gone with the Wind‘s adjusted total.

So with all that in mind, are you really ready to crown Avatar “King of the World”? Should it have an asterisk next to its name? Are Avatar‘s box-office numbers on steroids? Do you even care?

When it comes to talking about the #1 movie of all-time, if Avatar‘s numbers show it to be the #1 all-time earner I have no problem referring to it as such and will also need to update the Box-Office Oracle graphic, but I’m not going to be doing that until its final placement is realized.

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Weekend: Aug. 29, 2019, Sep. 1, 2019

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