Avatar hasn't been the top weekend grosser at the U.S. and Canada box office since late January. First, it was dethroned by the Channing Tatum-Amanda Seyfried tearjerker Dear John; then came Garry Marshall's Valentine's Day, Joe Johnston's The Wolfman, and Chris Columbus' Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. This past weekend, Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, took the top spot.
Even so, Avatar remains the top movie of 2010. After 69 days in release, James Cameron's ecologically conscious sci-fi adventure, which is up for nine Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, has grossed $691.7 million domestically (US/Canada) and $1.775 billion internationally for a total of $2.466 billion worldwide. Hefty figures, no matter how you look at them.
But as I've mentioned before, it's always good to remember that those are box-office figures — which usually keep going up and up thanks to higher admission prices — instead of a higher number of tickets sold. If inflation, 3D/IMAX premium surcharges, and dollar fluctuations (for the international box office tallies) are taken into account the overall picture changes rather dramatically.
Now, pirated downloads of Avatar, if they've had any impact at all on the film's box office take, that impact has been minuscule. Really, how many people do you know who are eager to watch a state-of-the-art 3D epic on a 2D computer screen – even if in High Definition, which isn't likely – when they can catch it in all its technological glory at 3D theaters?
Boxofficemojo.com estimates that Avatar is now #15 on the all-time domestic box office chart adjusted for inflation, which is supposed to more accurately reflect the number of tickets a film has sold. (For comparison's sake, Titanic is #6.) Yet, Avatar keeps forging ahead, even if with less steam than before; on weekdays, for instance, the film has been taking in about 55-60 percent of its daily grosses from two weeks ago. But although the Na'vi are getting a little tired, they're up five slots since our last report about two weeks ago, having passed Mike Nichols' The Graduate (1967), Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park (1993) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and George Roy Hill's Paul Newman-Robert Redford Oscar-winning caper The Sting (1973).
If things continue as they've been, Avatar will need about ten days to two weeks to reach the #14 slot, currently occupied by Richard Marquand's Return of the Jedi (1983) with $715.7 million.
At #13, William Wyler's multiple Oscar-winning epic Ben-Hur, with Charlton Heston, is even further ahead, with $745.7 million, right behind Irvin Kershner's The Empire Strikes Back (1980) with $747.1 million. Avatar will need quite a bit of steam to pass those two within the next month or so. That's not impossible, but Avatar will find it increasingly difficult as it moves up the list, partly because the box office gap between films will get wider, and partly because, as mentioned above, the high-flying sci-fi epic is clearly showing signs of box office fatigue in the US.
Compounding matters, Tim Burton's 3D fantasy Alice in Wonderland opens in theaters on March 5. The Na'vi will then be mercilessly forced out of their sacred IMAX/3D theaters, where they've made about 80 percent of their domestic income according to The Hollywood Reporter. (Fox, however, is reportedly considering a year-end rerelease.)
Once again, bear in mind that the figures above are approximations based on “average” ticket prices provided by the National Association of Theater Owners. (Box Office Mojo has come up with its own estimated average — $7.61 — for 2010.) An accurate calculation of a film's popularity at the box office — as in, the number of tickets sold and its ratio to the population size at the time of the film's release — would be based on where a movie made most of its money, e.g., a top-dollar New York house, in thousands of cheap small-town theaters, at matinees for kiddies, or at 3D/IMAX theaters that charge a premium. (Avatar ticket prices range from $9 to $16.50 or whereabouts, or between 28.5 percent and 40 percent more than ticket prices for 2D movies.)
It's also worth remembering that population increases, changes in movie-going demographics, and the growth of entertainment alternatives (home video, cable television, pay-per-view options) should all be taken into consideration when comparing the box office success of movies from different eras. And that many of the movies found on Box Office Mojo's inflation-adjusted chart had one or more rereleases throughout the decades.
Avatar has just beaten Titanic's worldwide box office record in inflation-adjusted US-dollar terms. As per the US Bureau of Labor Statistics' inflation calculator, Titanic would have grossed $2.450 billion in 2010 US dollars, or about $16 million less than Avatar, a blockbuster that continues to break box office records overseas on its 10th week.
Now, even if we choose to ignore the fact that the playing field isn't the same – when Titanic came out, neither China nor Russia, two of Avatar's biggest boosters, were the huge Hollywood markets they've become since; back in 1998, movies didn't come out on DVD three or four months following their initial release – there's also the issue of 3D/IMAX surcharges, which can add about about 28.5%-40 percent to a movie's admission costs.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, approximately 80 percent of Avatar's revenues in North America and two-thirds of its international receipts came from 3D/IMAX screenings. Subtract one-third – or even one-quarter or one-fifth – of Avatar's worldwide box office take to date, and you'll find that it still trails Titanic – in terms of number of tickets sold – by a wide margin.
Just as important is the fact that back in 1998 the US dollar was very strong, whereas in 2010 it's quite weak. In other words, most top foreign currencies, when converted, could buy way fewer dollars in 1998 than today; e.g., 1,000 Japanese Yen bought $US7.5 in Jan. 1998, but US$10.7 in Jan. 2010; 1,000 Chinese Yuan bought US$120 in Jan. 1998, but US$146 in Jan. 2010; 1 euro bought US$1.09 in Jan. 1998, but US$1.43 in Jan. 2010. (Note: in 1998, EU countries still had their own currencies, but the euro reflected their monetary value.)
So, if 1 million tickets at 1,000 Yen each were sold for Titanic in Japan in 1998 and the same amount was sold for Avatar for the same price in 2010 (we're ignoring inflation and 3D/IMAX surcharges here), when converted to US dollars, box office figures would read approximately $7.5 million for Titanic and $10.7 million for Avatar. That's quite a discrepancy when we're discussing nine-figure amounts: Titanic grossed $201 million in Japan in 1998; in 2010 US dollars, that would represent a staggering $286 million. Avatar, with higher ticket prices and 3D/IMAX surcharges, has grossed $131 million at the Japanese box office as of Feb. 21.
Even the domestic box office – which includes both the US and Canada – has been (paradoxically) strengthened by the weak US dollar: The Canadian dollar was worth 70 cents in Jan. 1998; in Jan. 2010, it was worth 96 cents, a valuation of about 35 percent. That means adding approximately US$3.5 million to every $10 million Canadian dollars earned by Avatar at the domestic box office when compared to the same amount (in Canadian dollars) earned when Titanic was the James Cameron blockbuster breaking global box office records as moviegoers the world over wanted to see Leonardo DiCaprio sink and Kate Winslet swim.
Now, don't get me wrong. Avatar is still playing around the world and it's still doing incredibly well in numerous countries. Although to date Avatar has sold fewer tickets than Titanic and a number of other movies, it's undeniably a gigantic success. Much like Titanic was a gigantic success, along with Star Wars and Jaws and E.T. and The Ten Commandments and Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Sound of Music and Doctor Zhivago and Mary Poppins and Ben-Hur (1959) and Samson and Delilah and Duel in the Sun and The Bells of St. Mary's and Gone with the Wind and King Kong and Ben-Hur (1925) and The Birth of a Nation and other movies released before and after.
Just remember to always take claims such as Biggest Box-Office Hit Ever! Record-Breaking Box-Office Revenues! – no matter how old or how new the movie in question – with a boulder-sized grain of salt.
Currency exchange source: x-rates.com. According to the website, most of their pre-2009 exchange rates were culled from Federal Reserve Bank and International Monetary Fund data.
Sam Worthington, Joel David Moore, Dileep Rao in James Cameron's Avatar (top); John Guillermin's The Towering Inferno starred Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Susan Blakely, Richard Chamberlain, Jennifer Jones, O.J. Simpson, Robert Vaughn, and Robert Wagner (bottom)
If 3D/IMAX surcharges are factored in, Avatar would fall behind many more movies on Box Office Mojo's inflation-adjusted chart, which is supposed to better reflect the number of tickets a movie has sold. As I've explained in the comments section of a previous Avatar post, the 3D/IMAX premiums can add somewhere between 25-30 and 40 percent to Avatar's grosses. The vast majority of movies, including most recent releases, don't have that sort of advantage — certainly not to Avatar's extent, as 80 percent of its domestic gross and about two-thirds of its international gross have come from 3D and 3D/IMAX screenings. [Please see a personal addendum below.]
Even if you opt for the lower end of the scale and subtract only 25 percent from Avatar's domestic earnings (a worldwide inflation-adjusted chart is unavailable) — in order to better estimate where James Cameron's sci-fi adventure would rank in number of tickets sold — the film would have earned to date (Feb. 25) $518.7 million, placing it at #37, slightly ahead of Macaulay Culkin's 1991 comedy Home Alone ($515.4m) and several million behind Roland Emmerich's 1996 cartoonish sci-fier Independence Day ($527.1m).
If you opt for a mid-level percentage, or about 33 percent, Avatar's “2D-equivalent box office take” would be $461.1 million, which would place it at #53 in number of tickets sold, slightly ahead of Sam Raimi's 2004 superhero flick Spider-Man 2 ($457.8m) and several million behind John Guillermin's 1974 all-star disaster melodrama The Towering Inferno ($467m).
Once again, bear in mind that those are approximations based on “average” ticket prices provided by the National Association of Theater Owners. (Box Office Mojo has come up with its own estimated average — $7.61 — for 2010.) An accurate calculation of a film's popularity at the box office — as in, the number of tickets sold and its ratio to the population size at the time of the movie's release — would be based on where the movie made most of its money, e.g., a top-dollar New York house, thousands of cheaper small-town theaters, 3D/IMAX screenings, or kiddie matinees.
Avatar's ticket prices, for instance, cost much more than the purported $7.61 “average” for 2010. In fact, most releases — whether new or old — that earn(ed) most of their revenues in major urban centers are at an advantage on those charts, whereas movies that did well in smaller towns or those made for children (lower prices for kids, matinees) are at a disadvantage.
It's also worth remembering that population increases, changes in movie-going demographics, changes in movie distribution (movies didn't open at 3,000 – – or even 300 – screens until the mid-70s), and the growth of entertainment alternatives (home video, cable television, pay-per-view options) should all be taken into consideration when comparing the box office success of movies from different eras. And that many of the movies found on Box Office Mojo's inflation-adjusted chart had one or more rereleases throughout the years.
The effect of piracy on a movie's box office performance remains highly debatable. It all depends on the type of movie (would you rather watch Avatar on your computer screen or at a 3D movie house?), the quality of the pirated material (high-def. copies vs. crummy reproductions), and where the copying is taking place (Beverly Hills or Lagos or Kinshasa, where most people who'd buy 50-cent copies of Hollywood flicks wouldn't be able to afford going to the movies, anyhow).
And finally, Avatar is generating quite a bit of money and will probably keep doing so in the next few weeks. More “inflation-adjusted” updates will be posted in the near future.
Addendum: I've been accused of coming up with those figures because I'm somehow anti-Avatar. I'm not. Avatar isn't my favorite movie of the year and I wouldn't call it a great film, but I found it a memorable experience nevertheless. I am anti-bullshit, however. And I like to keep things in perspective as much as possible, even considering all the variables involved when comparing something as ephemeral as a movie's “popularity.” That's the only reason I've been posting those “inflation-adjusted” articles about Avatar. It could've been any other movie that studio flacks – and journalists who should know better – claim is the Biggest Box-Office Hit Ever.
As an aside, I may be checking out Avatar a second time before it disappears from 3D houses. In fact, I want to catch it at an IMAX screening.
Photo: Avatar (WETA / 20th Century Fox); Titanic (20th Century Fox); Ben-Hur (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
On Tuesday, Feb. 2, '10, James Cameron's Avatar flew past Cameron's own Titanic to become the #1 blockbuster ever at the domestic box office – as long as you choose to ignore both inflation and 3D/IMAX surcharges – with $601.6 million as per Boxofficemojo.com. Avatar had already overtaken Titanic at the worldwide (including North America) box office about a week ago. To date, Avatar has grossed $1.446 billion overseas; the low value of the US dollar and the relatively recent opening up of huge movie markets Russia and China have helped out Cameron's latest hit.
Titanic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet (and featuring veteran Gloria Stuart), grossed $1.242 billion overseas and $600.8 million domestically. Avatar's worldwide total currently stands at $2.048 billion. Adjusted for inflation (even without considering 3D/IMAX higher ticket prices), Gone with the Wind remains the top blockbuster ever domestically, and possibly overseas as well (even remotely reliable figures are unavailable).
Avatar has been out for only a little over seven weeks and it still has a lot of steam left – though probably not as much as Titanic twelve years ago. It's doubtful that Avatar will remain at the top position for another eight weeks (Titanic remained #1 for 15 weekends), or that it'll have an increase in ticket sales of the kind experienced by Titanic. Avatar's figures have been dropping steadily, even if at a relatively slow pace (10 to 20 percent on a day-to-day or weekend-to-weekend basis).
When it comes to the actual number of tickets sold, Avatar still lags behind not only Titanic, but also a whole array of movies of various decades due to inflation and 3D surcharges that can add anywhere between 25 to 40 percent to the cost of a regular ticket.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, at least 65 percent of Avatar's overseas box office and almost 80 percent of its domestic revenues have come from 3D sites. As previously reported, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight earned only 6.5 percent of its worldwide revenues from higher-priced IMAX screenings.
Avatar has received nine Academy Award nominations, including best picture and best director (but not best screenplay). Additionally, it won 2010 Golden Globes for best picture (drama) and best director. Last week, it lost the 2010 Producers Guild Award to Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq War drama The Hurt Locker, while on Sunday James Cameron lost the 2010 Directors Guild Award to his former wife Bigelow, the first woman to ever win the DGA prize for a narrative feature.
Written and directed by Cameron, Avatar stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Sigourney Weaver, Laz Alonso, Giovanni Ribisi, CCH Pounder, and West Studi.
Photo: Avatar (WETA / 20th Century Fox)
'Avatar' Boosts News Corp.
Thanks to James Cameron's Avatar, officially the #1 all-time box-office champ both domestically and internationally, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., which owns 20th Century Fox, reported higher quarterly profits than Wall Street forecasters had predicted, the New York Times has reported. News Corp. announced earnings of $8.68 billion in its fiscal second quarter, which ended Dec. 31; that's up 10 percent from the year before.
News Corp.'s film revenues grew from $112 million to $324 million. After passing Cameron's own Titanic on Tuesday, Avatar topped the all-time domestic box office chart (not accounting for inflation and 3D/IMAX surcharges) with earnings of $601.6 million as per Box Office Mojo. To date, Avatar has grossed $1.446 billion overseas.
Avatar's influence will be felt even more strongly once this quarter's figures are tallied. During the previous quarter, Avatar had been out for only 13 days.
As per the Times report, News Corp. claimed its profit gain was a result of “increased advertising revenues at The Wall Street Journal and lower operating expenses throughout the newspaper businesses from prior year restructuring efforts,” though the company's cable network division led by Fox News was the most successful, with operating income growing from $448 million to $604 million.
The Times adds that the Avatar effect was reduced by “a recent $500 million payment to settle three lawsuits against one of its lesser-known units, News America Marketing, which sells in-store advertising in supermarkets and publishes coupon inserts.”
Photo: Avatar (WETA / 20th Century Fox)
Avatar movie ahead of Titanic on opening day in North America?
James Cameron's Avatar movie made $27 million at the domestic box office on Friday, according to various online sources. That figure includes $3.5 million the 3D futuristic action-adventure epic earned at Thursday midnight screenings. (Image: Avatar movie.)
Sounds impressive? Well, it is. Cameron's prior blockeviscerating epic, Titanic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet back in late 1997, made a mere $28.6 million on its opening weekend.
Sounds unimpressive for little Titanic? Well, think again. Ticket prices are now considerably higher than they were 12 years ago – $4.59 vs. $7.18 last year as per the National Association of Theater Owners. In other words, had DiCaprio and Winslet gone down with the ship (well, one of them did) late last year, Titanic's first-weekend gross would have been close to $45 million. Also, it's worth noting that Avatar movie tickets are even costlier – up to 40 percent – for IMAX and 3D screenings, where most of its box office take has been generated.
Avatar movie vs. New Moon, Revenge of the Fallen
Putting things into perspective: Cameron's Avatar movie's $27 million is nothing to be sniffed at, but thanks to Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner's on-screen chemistry, Chris Weitz's The Twilight Saga: New Moon grossed $72 million on its first Friday out a few weeks ago. Not far behind, Michael Bay's special-effects-laden Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen scored $62 million on its Wednesday debut. Though both were sequels, always a plus when it comes to opening-weekend grosses, neither one was in 3D.
Even if you factor in that both New Moon and Revenge of the Fallen may have opened in more theaters and had shorter running times than Cameron's Avatar movie, that's still quite a gap.
Avatar movie: Major box office gap this weekend
Another major gap is the one between Avatar and its current competition. According to early estimates, no other movie made more than $3.4 million in North America on Friday, which is what Disney's The Princess and the Frog earned at the number two spot. Sandra Bullock's The Blind Side took in $3.1 million, the much-panned Hugh Grant / Sarah Jessica Parker comedy Did You Hear About the Morgans? debuted in fourth place with a dismal $2.4 million, while Pattinson and Stewart and Lautner are still hanging in there, with New Moon in fifth with $1.4 million.
Avatar movie picture: 20th Century Fox