'Avatar' Box Office to Surpass 'Star Wars'? Or Still Trailing Robin Williams Comedy?

Avatar Na'vi Sam Worthington Star Wars box office competition'Avatar' box office: Na'vi-by-design Sam Worthington to beat 'Star Wars' or Robin Williams comedy?

'Avatar' box office gross to surpass 'Star Wars' – or no. 87 (or lower) on all-time domestic box office chart?

Jan. 10, '10, update: Starring Sam Worthington, James Cameron's Avatar box office has increased by an estimated $48.5 million over the weekend (Jan. 8–10), a relatively modest 29 percent drop from a week ago – the quite busy New Year's 2010 weekend.

Avatar's average per theater was an outstanding $14,173. Among the weekend's Top Twelve films, the nearest (distant) competitor was Michael and Peter Spierig's horror thriller Daybreakers, with $5,945 on its debut weekend.

Avatar's total domestic gross to date stands at $429 million. The 3D fantasy spectacle is now the seventh biggest blockbuster ever at the domestic box office (not taking inflation into account), slightly ahead of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest ($423.3 million) and slightly behind Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace ($431 million).

By next Friday, Avatar will likely be no. 4, right behind George Lucas' original Star Wars, which has to date raked in $460.9 million.

Worldwide (not adjusted for inflation or currency fluctuations), Avatar remains in the no. 2 slot, with $1.331 billion – and quite some ways behind James Cameron's own Titanic. The Leonardo DiCaprio-Kate Winslet 2D, non-IMAX'ed-out hit grossed $1.842 billion back in 1998.

'Avatar' breaks IMAX box office record, passes $100 million milestone

To date, Avatar's IMAX screenings have grossed about $68 million in the U.S. and Canada, in addition to $33 million overseas, thus becoming the first IMAX presentation to cross the $100 million mark according to Screen Daily.

The previous record-holder in the large screen format was Robert Zemeckis' 2004 motion-capture The Polar Express, featuring Tom Hanks and which took in $71 million.

In case you're wondering, among upcoming IMAX movies are:

  • Jon Favreau's Iron Man 2, starring Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, and Gwyneth Paltrow.
  • Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, with Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, veteran Christopher Lee, and numerous others.
  • Toni Myers' documentary Hubble 3D.

'Avatar' cast

Written and directed by James Cameron, besides Sam Worthington Avatar features the following:

Zoe Saldana. Stephen Lang. CCH Pounder. Giovanni Ribisi. Dileep Rao. Wes Studi.

Three-time Academy Award nominee Sigourney Weaver (Best Actress for James Cameron's Aliens, 1986, and Michael Apted's Gorillas in the Mist, 1988; Best Supporting Actress for Mike Nichols' Working Girl, 1988).

Joel David Moore. Matt Gerald. Sean Patrick Murphy. Sean Anthony Moran. Michelle Rodriguez. Laz Alonso.

'Avatar' nominations

Although it has been accused of being racist and paganistic, anti-American and pro-smoking, Avatar has been shortlisted by various Hollywood guilds and unions. Among them: the American Cinema Editors, the American Society of Cinematographers, the Art Directors Guild, the WGA, the DGA, and the PGA.

Avatar is also in the running for the 2010 Golden Globe in the Best Motion Picture Drama category. And finally, it'll surely be among the top nominees when the Academy Award nominations are announced on Feb. 2.

'Avatar' box office: 'Shrek 2' left behind

Jan. 14 update: Avatar pulled in another $4.7 million on Wednesday, Jan. 13. After 27 days out, James Cameron's ecologically conscious sci-fi/fantasy adventure starring Sam Worthington has taken in a monumental (it's hard to keep coming up with different grandiose adjectives) $445.7 million at the domestic box office.

Having just passed Shrek 2, Avatar is now no. 4 on the all-time domestic box office chart (not adjusted for inflation or higher 3D/IMAX ticket prices to accurately reflect ticket sales).

Cameron's movie will surely be no. 3 by next Monday, ahead of George Lucas' original Stars Wars ($460 million) while still trailing Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight and Cameron's own Titanic.

'Avatar' no. 87 on the all-time domestic box office chart?

Before returning to this weekend's domestic box office figures, here's a previous segment on the – inflation-adjusted – Avatar box office phenomenon.

Fri., Jan. 8, '10: Picture Avatar in the no. 87 slot on the all-time domestic box office chart. That doesn't sound quite right, does it? But then again…

With an estimated $381.1 million adjusted for inflation,* Avatar is found at the relatively modest 87th spot on Box Office Mojo's chart of the all-time highest-grossing movies in the U.S. and Canada.

If higher 3D/IMAX ticket prices were factored in, Avatar would be found quite a bit further down the list in number of tickets sold – which happens to be the true measure of a film's big-screen popularity.

* Adjusted to an estimated early 2010 average ticket price of $7.35 as provided by the National Association of Theater Owners.

Gone with the Wind Vivien Leigh Clark Gable Scarlett and Rhett remain at the top'Gone with the Wind' with Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable: Scarlett and Rhett remain at the top of the domestic box office chart.

'Gone with the Wind' still tops

Unsurprisingly, topping the all-time domestic box office list is 1939 multiple Oscar winner Gone with the Wind, starring Best Actress winner Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland, and Leslie Howard.

Victor Fleming directed (most of) the mammoth David O. Selznick production distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Estimated adjusted domestic gross (including rereleases): $1.485 billion.

The other top six films on the inflation-adjusted domestic chart are:

'Jaws' and 'The Exorcist' among Top Ten

Rounding out the Top Ten on the inflation-adjusted all-time domestic box office chart are:

  • Jaws (1975).
    Dir.: Steven Spielberg.
    Cast: Roy Scheider. Robert Shaw. Richard Dreyfuss. Lorraine Gary. Murray Hamilton.
  • Doctor Zhivago (1965).
    Dir.: David Lean.
    Cast: Omar Sharif. Julie Christie. Rod Steiger. Tom Courtenay. Alec Guinness. Geraldine Chaplin. Rita Tushingham.
  • The Exorcist (1973).
    Dir.: William Friedkin.
    Cast: Ellen Burstyn. Max von Sydow. Linda Blair. Jason Miller.
    Voice: Mercedes McCambridge.
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).
    Dir.: David Hand, Ben Sharpsteen, and others.
    Voice Cast: Adriana Caselotti. Billy Gilbert. Otis Harlan. Lucille La Verne. Moroni Olsen. Harry Stockwell.

'Ben-Hur' & 'Love Story' ahead of 'Avatar'

Others movies ahead of Avatar on the inflation-adjusted domestic box office chart include:

  • William Wyler's Ben-Hur (1959).
  • Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (1972).
  • Ivan Reitman's Ghostbusters (1984).
  • Arthur Hiller's Love Story (1970).
  • George Lucas' American Graffiti (1974).
  • Gore Verbinski's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006).
  • George Cukor's My Fair Lady (1964).
  • Michael Bay's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009).

'Avatar' box office to surpass … 'Mrs. Doubtfire'

But hey, if things continue as they are Avatar will be no. 85 by tomorrow, ahead of two Robin Williams hits of the 1990s: Aladdin (Williams provided Genie's voice) and Mrs. Doubtfire. James Cameron's Pandora-set fantasy has just passed both the Patrick Swayze-Demi Moore romantic fantasy Ghost (1980) and another big-budget David O. Selznick production, Duel in the Sun (1946), starring Jennifer Jones, Gregory Peck, and Joseph Cotten.

And if it adds another $50 million this weekend (Jan. 8–10), Avatar may jump to no. 59 by Monday, ahead of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

Admittedly, those types of statistics can be tricky as you don't have the actual number of tickets sold per film. Even so, they do provide a more honest representation of a film's popularity at the box office. (See further below the comparison between Avatar and Titanic at the Spanish box office.)

On the other hand, the fact that television, personal computers, DVDs, and/or pay-per-view options weren't around back when all-time winner Gone with the Wind – and other blockbusters – came out, should be considered as well.

Also, bear in mind that Gone with the Wind earned millions more in the late 1960s, in addition to other revivals as recent as the early 2000s.

Previous Jan. 10 post

Zoe Saldana in Avatar
Zoe Saldana in Avatar (WETA / 20th Century Fox)


Following an estimated $48.5 million take over the weekend, the total gross of James Cameron's Avatar currently stands at $429 million. The sci-fi spectacle is now the seventh biggest blockbuster ever at the domestic box office (not taking inflation or higher 3D/IMAX ticket prices into account), slightly ahead of the Johnny Depp vehicle Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest ($423.3m) and slightly behind George Lucas' Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace ($431m). By next Friday, Avatar will likely be #4, right behind Lucas' 1977 Star Wars ($460.9m).

Now, things change quite a bit when inflation is added to the box office mix, even without considering Avatar's 3D/IMAX premium surcharges – and those can add quite a bit to the cost of a movie ticket. As of Sunday, Box Office Mojo estimates that Avatar is #58 in the all-time domestic box office chart adjusted for inflation. The state-of-the-art 3D epic is slightly ahead of Back to the Future (1985) and slightly behind Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005).


If Avatar adds another $20-$25 million by Friday, as it quite likely will, it'll land on that list's 50th spot – right behind a 2D, black-and-white movie made in 1945 by a studio (RKO) that no longer exists, The Bells of St. Mary's, with state-of-the-art special effects consisting of Bing Crosby's vocal cords and Ingrid Bergman's Swedish accent.

Some of the movies Avatar will have passed: Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (2004), Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), George Cukor's musical My Fair Lady (1964), Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man 2 (2004), the Paul Newman-Steve McQueen disaster melodrama The Towering Inferno (1974), and Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003).

Once again, it's always good to remember that those are approximations based on average ticket prices – which can vary widely depending on where a movie made most of its money, e.g., a top-dollar New York house or in thousands of flea-ridden small-town theaters that charged a quarter per ticket. It's also worth remembering that population increases, changes in movie-going demographics, and the growth of entertainment alternatives should all be taken into consideration when comparing the box office success of movies from different eras.

Daybreakers vampire meets zombie movie'Daybreakers': Vampire-meets-zombie movie has toothless, lifeless debut.

Amy Adams, Ethan Hawke early 2010 releases fare poorly

Back to the Jan. 8–10 weekend: according to figures found at Boxofficemojo.com, among the new wide releases only Michael and Peter Spierig's Daybreakers, toplining Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe, managed to gross more than $10 million in the U.S. and Canada. The vampire flick scored a none too impressive $15 million at no. 4, trailing both Sherlock Holmes and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. (See further below.)

Starring Amy Adams and Matthew Goode, Anand Tucker's romantic comedy Leap Year collected $9.1 million at no. 6, while Miguel Arteta's Youth in Revolt, featuring Juno actor Michael Cera, took in $6.88 million at no. 9. Both movies performed more or less according to expectations – the problem is that what was expected wasn't much at all.

Daybreakers, about zombiefied vampires (actually ex-humans previously vampirized by a global plague) struggling to survive as their blood supply becomes scarce, was the only new entry with a passable per-screen average: $5,945.

Neither Leap Year nor Youth in Revolt managed to reach as much as $4,000 per screen on their opening weekend. The former averaged $3,650, the latter $3,737.

Leap Year revolves around a woman (Amy Adams) who falls in love with an innkeeper (Matthew Goode) on her way to Dublin to propose to her boyfriend (Adam Scott).

Youth in Revolt, which also features Portia Doubleday and The Hangover actor Zach Galifianakis, chronicles the travails of a teenager after he creates a rebellious alter ego to win over his dream girl.

Once again 'Sherlock Holmes' barely beats 'Alvin and the Chipmunks' sequel

Still going strong this weekend was Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, and Rachel McAdams, holding on to the no. 2 slot with an estimated $16.6 million. Total to date: $165.1 million after nearly three weeks.

Once again gnawing at Sherlock Holmes' heels, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel brought in $16.3 million. Cume: a remarkable $178.1 million.

Trailing Daybreakers, Nancy Meyers' ensemble comedy It's Complicated, starring Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, and Alec Baldwin, collected $11 million at no. 5. Total to date: $76.3 million.

Trailing Leap Year, Sandra Bullock's sleeper hit The Blind Side raked in $7.7 million at no. 7, lifting its total to $219.1 million.

Next in line, Jason Reitman's socially conscious drama Up in the Air, starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, and Anna Kendrick, scored $7.1 million. Domestic total: $54.7 million.

Leap Year Amy Adams major misfire'Leap Year' with Amy Adams: Major critical and commercial misfire.

Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson still among Top Twelve

Rounding out the Top Twelve this weekend were the following:

  • Trailing Youth in Revolt, Disney's animated The Princess and the Frog with $4.7 million at no. 10. Total: $92.6 million.
  • Clint Eastwood's Invictus with $1.7 million. Total: $33.5 million.
    Cast: Morgan Freeman (as South African political leader Nelson Mandela). Matt Damon.
  • Somewhat surprisingly, Chris Weitz's The Twilight Saga: New Moon with nearly $1.7 million. Total $290.7 million.
    Cast: Kristen Stewart. Robert Pattinson. Taylor Lautner. Peter Facinelli. Elizabeth Reaser. Michael Sheen. Dakota Fanning. Kellan Lutz. Nikki Reed. Jackson Rathbone. Ashley Greene.

Could New Moon still be playing when David Slade's The Twilight Saga: Eclipse opens on June 30?

Gone from the Top Twelve:

Avatar Sam Worthington Sigourney Weaver Joel David Moore Michelle Rodriguez record-breaking'Avatar' box office: Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Joel David Moore and Michelle Rodriguez in the latest record-breaking record-breaker.

Spanish box office: 'Avatar' both ahead and behind 'Titanic'

According to the Spanish site Tio Oscar, in its fourth week out Avatar has earned 4.59 million euros at the Spanish box office. Its total in that country is 39.94 million euros (US$57 million) vs. 38.06 million ($54.3 million, current exchange rate) for Titanic.

Avatar, however, still has a long way to go in order to surpass Titanic's record in terms of number of tickets sold. While the previous James Cameron epic sold 10.8 million tickets, Avatar has sold “only” 5.2 million to date.

It's expected that Avatar will eventually sell more than 8 million tickets and gross about 60 million euros in Spain. If so, it'll far surpass Titanic in 2010 grosses, but it'll trail Titanic by a wide margin in number of tickets sold.

And that helps to explain why Hollywood studios choose to divulge only box office grosses – not the actual number of tickets sold. That way, headline-friendly records can be broken just about every year. (See headline below.)

'Avatar' breaks records in Australia

Elsewhere in the world, Australia to be exact, Avatar has broken box office records (of sorts) as well. According to the Melbourne Herald Sun, James Cameron's 3D sci-fi adventure has become the biggest hit ever at the Australian box office – if one chooses to ignore inflation (and, in terms of actual ticket sales, 3D/IMAX surcharges).

Starring the English-born, Perth-raised Sam Worthington, Avatar took in AUD$8.3 million over the weekend, lifting its cume to AUD$63.2 million (US$57.7 million).

The previous record holder, Titanic, had grossed AUD$57.6 million ($52.6 million, current exchange rate) in 1998. More than 75 percent of Avatar's Australian earnings have come from 3D screenings.

'Avatar' to surpass 'The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King'

Thu., Jan. 7: James Cameron's 3D fantasy epic Avatar earned another $6.9 million at the U.S. and Canada box office on Wednesday, Jan. 6. To date, Avatar has earned $374.4 million domestically. It's now the 12th highest-grossing movie of all time – if one chooses to ignore inflation.

When Thursday figures are added in, Avatar will have overtaken Peter Jackson's 2003 Best Picture Oscar winner The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King ($377 million) and perhaps even Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith ($380.2 million).

Internationally, Avatar is the no. 2 movie, with $1.13 billion. About two-thirds of its box office take has been generated overseas, partly thanks to the low value of the U.S. dollar.

James Cameron's disaster epic Titanic is no. 1, with $1.84 billion – and will likely remain in that position for quite a while.

'Avatar' to surpass 'The Passion of the Christ,' 'Spider-Man 2'

Wed., Jan. 6: Avatar continues to exercise – by far – the strongest pull at the domestic box office in early 2010. On Tuesday, Jan. 5, James Cameron's fantasy adventure scored another $7.3 million. Avatar's total domestic gross currently stands at $367.5 million.

Partly thanks to inflation and 3D/IMAX premium surcharges, Avatar is now no. 14 among the all-time highest-grossing movies in the U.S. and Canada.

By the time Wednesday's figures are added to its total, Avatar will likely be no. 12, surpassing both Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ and Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2.

If things continue as they are, Avatar will likely be no. 10 by Friday.


Na'vi Sam Worthington Avatar image: WETA / 20th Century Fox.

Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh Gone with the Wind image: MGM.

Joel David Moore, Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, and Sam Worthington Avatar image: Mark Fellman / 20th Century Fox.

Amy Adams Leap Year image: Universal Pictures.

Daybreakers vampire-zombie image: Lionsgate Pictures.

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6 Comments to 'Avatar' Box Office to Surpass 'Star Wars'? Or Still Trailing Robin Williams Comedy?

  1. Joe_6285

    It's an great achievement for James Cameron as he is made his mark that he is still king of the world even after 12 years after his return.Thanks for the update let's see how much it make by the end of it's run

  2. Maxwell

    once you make a film that grosses over a billion dolloars, and then i'll listen to your opinion.

    Inflation or no inflation, a billion dollars is still more money than I could ever have.

  3. Michelle

    @ Michael,

    It's our editorial policy to add “not accounting for inflation” or some such whenever making box office comparisons among films released many years or decades apart, or whenever saying that “such and such movie broke box-office records.”

    AVATAR is different in that it's also making most of its money at 3D/IMAX venues that charge premiums. So, it's also the blog's editorial policy that we should tell our readers about that fact to keep things in context.

    We've “chatted” before, but many people are newcomers. This post may be their first Alt Film Guide visit. That's why I'm supposed to repeat “3D/IMAX/inflation” each time I post about AVATAR's all-time box-office records.

    In no way is that a comment on James Cameron's technological or artistic achievements.

  4. Michael Sellers

    Hi Michelle,
    Me again. I notice that every time you report on Avatar's Box Office, you caveat it by saying “not adjusted for inflation or higher 3D ticket prices”. I have a thought about the 3D ticket prices and I ask you to consider it. You are treating it as if Cameron's decision to “go for it” with 3D was a “done deal” — that he would automatically get benefit from it. I disagree. It was a gamble. He was rolling the dice and saying he would do it in 3D, and then he would deliver an experience that would JUSTIFY the higher price. Audiences could have said — no way — there's a recession — I won't pay the extra $3 for 3D — and Cameron could have had the disaster many were predicting. But he delivered an experience that the audience has judged worthy of the 3D surcharge. I do not think you can discount his accomplishment for the 3D surcharge. For the general increase in ticket prices since Titanic — yes. It should be adjusted for that. But not for 3D ticket prices. That could have been his Waterloo had he not delivered an extraordinary experience.

  5. Jay

    Amazing this movie is BAD ok the special effects are great but come on! The story sucks the problem is the movies they make these days focus too much on special effects not enough on making a good movie. One of the greatest movies I saw was The usual suspects I could name a lot of better movies Think of Mad Max, Blade Runner they dont make them like they used to!

  6. Michael Sellers

    Avatar has also passed Pirates: Dead Man's Chest, moving into the number 3 all time slot globally at 1.1B behing Titanic and Return of the King. It's only trailing Return of the King by $22m so that will fall shortly, and it will be Titanic and Avatar 1-2. But Titanic will have a big lead — close to 700M.