- The Last Airbender box office: M. Night Shyamalan’s critically derided big-screen adaptation of Nickelodeon’s popular animated television series is on its way to becoming a costly flop.
The Last Airbender box office: M. Night Shyamalan fantasy has stronger than expected debut – but that won’t be enough to save it
July 2–4 weekend box office: In spite of some seriously wobbly legs, David Slade’s The Twilight Saga: Eclipse easily dominated the domestic box office this past Fourth of July weekend, collecting $68.4 million.
Starring Kristen Stewart as a troubled human, Robert Pattinson as a “vegetarian” vampire, and Taylor Lautner as a overheated werewolf, Eclipse has to date collected $157.6 million in North America (U.S. and Canada only).
Even so, Eclipse is – at least to some extent – last week’s story, as the romantic fantasy opened to near-record-breaking numbers on Wednesday, June 30.
The Fourth of July weekend’s top box office news was thus M. Night Shyamalan’s critically (and ethnically) panned The Last Airbender, a Paramount release based on the first season of Nickelodeon’s animated television series of the same name (full title: Avatar: The Last Airbender). The 3D-converted big-screen version had a reported $150 million budget, with an additional $130 million in marketing and distribution costs.
Nine figures well spent?
Big-time money-loser in the making
Although The Last Airbender took in a better than expected $40.3 million (from 3,169 sites) over the weekend proper – $57.8 million since its Thursday debut – that’s hardly enough for the fantasy adventure to as much as match its production budget domestically.
If it were to actually recover its budget (not including marketing and distribution expenses) in the U.S. and Canada, The Last Airbender would have to rake in approximately $300 million. Now, the only three 2010 releases that have thus far grossed more than $300 million domestically – Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, Jon Favreau’s Iron Man 2, and Lee Unkrich’s Toy Story 3 – all scored more than $110 million on their first weekend out.
Making the picture look even dimmer: According to CinemaScore, domestic moviegoers have given Shyamalan’s latest effort a C average. If that means middling box office grosses, then the movie’s only chance lies with the international market, which earlier this year softened the big-screen losses of costly domestic duds like Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood and Mike Newell’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
Strong international figures soften the domestic blow
Update: A multiple Razzie winner, The Last Airbender ultimately earned $131.8 million domestically and $187.9 million internationally, for a worldwide total of $319.7 million.
That may have been enough to cover the production budget of M. Night Shyamalan’s fantasy adventure, but definitely not its marketing and distribution expenses.
The Last Airbender’s biggest international markets were Russia/CIS ($18.3 million – more than Sherlock Holmes and Iron Man 2), Germany ($15.6 million), Mexico ($14.1 million), South Korea ($11.8 million), and France ($11.5 million).
To date, there hasn’t been a big-screen sequel.
“The Last Airbender: M. Night Shyamalan” endnotes
Unless otherwise noted, “The Last Airbender: M. Night Shyamalan Box Office Dud” box office information via Box Office Mojo. Budget info – which should usually be taken with a grain of salt – via BOM and/or other sources.
Comments about The Last Airbender and other titles being profitable or money-losers at the box office (see paragraph below) are based on the available data about their production budget, additional marketing and distribution expenses (as a general rule of thumb, around 50 percent of the production cost), and worldwide gross (as a general rule of thumb when it comes to the Hollywood studios, around 50–55 percent of the domestic gross and 40 percent of the international gross goes to the distributing/producing companies).
Bear in mind that data regarding rebates, international pre-sales, and other credits and/or contractual details that help to alleviate/split production costs and apportion revenues are oftentimes unavailable, and that reported international grosses can be incomplete (i.e., not every territory is accounted for). Also bear in mind that ancillary revenues (domestic/global television rights, home video sales, streaming, merchandising, etc.) can represent anywhere between 40–70 percent of a movie’s total take; however, these revenues and their apportionment are only infrequently made public.
Noah Ringer and Dev Patel The Last Airbender movie images: Paramount Pictures.
“The Last Airbender: M. Night Shyamalan Box Office Dud” last updated in June 2022.