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The Last Airbender: M. Night Shyamalan Box Office Dud

The Last Airbender Noah RingerThe Last Airbender with Noah Ringer. The Paramount-distributed M. Night Shyamalan fantasy turned out to be a costly money-loser, disliked by both critics and fans of the original TV series.
  • 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?

Not likely.

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.

The Last Airbender features Noah Ringer, Slumdog Millionaire leading man Dev Patel, Eclipse actor Jackson Rathbone, Nicola Peltz, and Shaun Toub.

The Last Airbender Dev PatelThe Last Airbender with Dev Patel. With the fantasy adventure The Last Airbender, M. Night Shyamalan has had his third consecutive domestic box office underperformer, following Lady in the Water ($42.3 million in 2006) and The Happening ($64.5 million in 2008).

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.

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26 comments

Dean -

look at the competition that film had to work with?? no wonder. Not a huge audience knows of Avatar the last air bender, but for kids it was a good film. I would still pay to go see the film as I was impressed by the level of marial arts and likness for the cartoon it had. Compared to films like db evloution, this film will be back for some more Im sure. dont knock it for facts and figures, just enjoy the fact its here and its a fantastic film

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Joe -

I didn’t like how M Night limited roles for asian (specifically east asian) and native american actors, it doesn’t make sense to me. It bothers me that only actors who portrayed Sokka, Katara, and their grandmother were non native americans but the rest of the water tribe were. Why did he divide up the nations by races? That wasn’t the point of the animated series. All it did was create an imbalance nonsense of races that strayed off from their ethnic culture. If he had cast a fair amount of representation, especially with the leads, he would’ve had more fan support even if the critics hated it. Most critics hated Transformers movies, but they made a lot of money from the fans. Besides the stupid casting, I don’t understand why he changed pronunciations of the names. Even if he was trying to be more authentic with the names, shouldn’t the races be as well? Also, why was this movie out in 3D, it was pointless! I just don’t understand.

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peter -

I watched Avatar: The Last Airbender since the show began airing on Nickelodeon when I was a freshman and I loved every second of it. I watched all the way to the finale and watched each episode several times over. I never got sick of this show. However, I am incredibly disappointed with this movie.

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peter -

When a four year old boy sits and complains about how wrong the movie is and asking why they didn’t put this in it, or why is such and such out of order, you know you have royally screwed up.

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peter -

First of all, I just want to say that I am a HUGE fan of the show. Since the day it came out my friends and I have loved it, we have Avatar parties where we just all hang out and order Pizza and watch Avatar seasons. So we were looking forward to this movie. The verdict: it was really interesting!

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O.o -

Well! All the comments i’ve read tell me this movie is a boring movie. In fact, someone love it and someone not. It’s doesn’t matter cause each person have difference opinions. I agree the frist part is boring cause it’s not funny at all. Aang has to be a funny kid, that the cartoon show us but in the movie Aang is so seriou. Anyway, he still a kid and he doesn’t has enuogh experience but M. Night said he tried his best and he worked so hard on his actting and those stuff in the movie was cool. Overall i really enjoyed this movie

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reyvn77 -

I’ve never seen the series before I went to see this horrible wreck of a movie. The problem isn’t about “what he left out”. The problem is that it’s a horrible, horrible, fetid stinkhole of a “movie”. It doesn’t need to be compared to the series. It’s bad on its own. And to think I’ve been such a Shyamalan fan for so long.

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shir -

don’t be fooled by reviews. it’s a great movie!! it gives the cartoons justice.

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Derek -

It was pathetic and boring. My little 5 year old brother cried at the end. It wasn’t made for kids and it was too serious. But it didn’t even have adult elements. Who was the target audience for this movie?

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j -

Honestly, I only went to see this movie because my dad didn’t want to see a pixar movie and cry in front of his kids…and I kNEW it was going to be bad. It wasn’t just the misplaced casting or slightly wooden trailer scenes in which the kids just stand there looking at something which ominously approaches. I just had a bad feeling, the way I did about The Spirit. Good god.
Initially when I saw the actors cast I joined those up in arms, realizing I have something to hesitate about but then I read M Night’s interview about choosing the best actors. And after I read that interview I thought 2 things: 1. They REALLY better be the right actors or man, you are a jerk. The fact is that didn’t happen. He got me again dammit. 2. M NIght is kinda full of shit. Sure there is lots of pompous directors as there are pompous everything else (Kanye, anyone?) but that doesn’t mean they are unable to tap into a fantastical zeitgist. I’ve seen the movie and he failed to do both.Also he insulted the idea of true open casting when he cast 3 actors who were unable, due to bad direction or inexperience, tap the surface of the revolutionary joy that the series incorporated along with its spiritual morals and capitalist motivations. So sad. Should another movie return it is assured it would not be M NIght.

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Catryona -

IMHO a lot of the reviewers are so negative because they missed the best part of the movie - the emotional journey of the protagonist. It was really understated (compared to the other plot developments, which were broadcast on megaphone generally) but I think a lot of people can relate to being held back by pent-up emotions. I know I can. Your article gives me hope for the sequels I’m longing for.

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Valerie -

I loved the movie as just as I love the series. I thought the movie was very good and I do not think Noah Ringer ruined anything. He played the kid when it called out for a kid and he wasn’t that bad outside of that either. Once again, it is your own perspective that matters not what everyone is saying or not saying. I hope they complete 2 and 3 because I enjoyed seeing one of my favorite series come alive on the big screen.

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Rebecca Weaver -

I am not surprised at how Paramount’s numbers are off by that much. They also quoted a review in their ads that was an early review of a prescreening, not the actual review which panned it. Why? Because there are no good reviews. Even the positive ones on RT are lukewarm at best, i.e. “if you ignore the bad parts, the rest is passable”.

I don’t want a “it’s just the first, it’ll get better” I want to see a film that makes me want to see a second one. I want them to get it right the first time, not pretend that this one has training wheels on it.

I went to a screening on the 6th, it was full, but by the end of the film the theater was half empty and most of the audience had turned on their cell phones and were texting/gaming. All the laughter was at the dialog, not the 1 1/2 funny moments. They booed M. Night’s name at the end credits. One guy was apologizing to his ticked off girlfriend and she’s all “You owe me TWO Eclipses for this!” and another guy said that “if the second movie comes out and they screw up Toph, Philadelphia will be nuked from orbit.”

Yeah, no ambiguity there. No “most people liked it.” For once, critics and fans and casual movie goers are on the same page. Anything else is studio spindoctoring.

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Queen -

I loved the movie…it was great for a first movie…the second of course will be far better!
I and my friends loved it! Don’t know whats with the all the negative talk. Its just part 1. People jumping on bandwagon’s instead of telling the truth. This was a good film. Can’t wait til Part 2.

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Astra -

@Queen No, majority of those who have went to see this movie have come out to say it’s bad. If a movie is bad, it’s bad no one is jumping on any bandwagon. Good films don’t get 8% on Rotten Tomatoes, and if sales for Last Airbender continue to decline that should say enough about the film.

If you liked the film, that’s fine it’s your opinion, but just because several others hold a different one then yours doesn’t mean they aren’t telling the truth or are lying.

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J -

I liked the movie too. i went to a packed screen this monday and noticed that there were less than 20% children in the audience, and almost everyone seemed to come out happy. I really really don’t know why people are writing such negative reviews about a movie which seems more complete than LOTR1 when it came out. People need to realize that this is part 1 of a 3 part series, and not a movie in itself. Part 2 will not be a sequel, but merely a continuation of the main story.

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Jorell -

The boycott is working! Woo! Thank you guys for banding together to promote Shyamalan’s speedy retirement. Do not watch the movie. It is a horror to see such potential be destroyed.

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jeff -

TOO much movement for TOO little bending.All that moving for like ONE attack!!lmao.Weak story terrible casting and an even worse ending.No kyoshi warriors and the movie was book one water and ends unfinished!They re trying to set it up for a three or four part movie series.NOT gonna happen I won’t waste my money again.Just like dragon ball some things are better left animated.

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lina88 -

I hope anyone and everyone overseas goes and sees The Last Airbender again and again! I have never been so ashamed to be part of a country who thinks its correct for some pompous little men and women called the critic to set out to maliciously destroy a man and his movie. Then you have all these Twi fans pretending they saw the movie and bad mouthing it because they are scared it might give Eclipse some competition. I truly hope this backfires and Eclipse does so much worse than what is predicted. If anyone overseas reads this pass along the idea that they are still countries where freedom is still valued and you don’t have to be a zombie and only see what a critic wants you to see or be part of a negative campaign led by obessive, rude little girls that are vicious in their intent (Twifans)!
Also save me from anyone that is not the targeted audience making any kind of negative opinion. This was not intended for 21 year old men. It’s a great feel good movie, with pretty neat special effects (a family movie). You feel good when you walk out like you have been entertained! I am in my 40’s and my husband I took a few kids varying in ages from 8-16. Five of us total and we loved this movie and intend to buy the DVD.

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tom -

I like the Avatar cartoon and went into seeing this expecting to like it. I wish all I had to say was don’t waste your time. The story makes sudden jumps. If you haven’t seen the cartoon you’ll barelly understand the character realationships. The fight seens were too simplistic and dull. There was barelly any bending. Save your money and watch the cartoon. One of the easiest special effects should have been Zuko’s scar but in the movie it looks like a slight sun burn. The best I can say is M. Night Shyamalan tried to put to much in to little of time.

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James -

Zac:

It doesn’t seem at all likely that The Last Airbender will get that far, but that’s where the overseas market should come to the rescue.

You are criticizing a film on a very weak premise. Your entire style in writing is very poor. Many suppositions are included in your article. In order to support your arguments, maybe you could have use some comparative data, statistics, trends in terms of movie type of this genre.

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Walter -

I just saw “The Last Airbender” and while I can definitely agree that the storyline leaves out a lot and the pronunciation of some of the names are wrong, I thought it was a decent movie. Some of the scenes (ex. the beginning sequence) is pretty much spot on to the cartoon sequence

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Gina -

I hope that this movie earns enough to motivate them to make part two!! I am ticked off because of the way this movie was made which is unfinished. They may as well have wrote to be continued…. maybe at the end. Who wants to wait a year or two to see THE END? At least twilight seems complete when the movie is over and then its an added bonus to get a few more movies out of it. Jeeze, not to mention the action in this movie was in slow motion, I got bored! My son watches the cartoon that this movie mimic(poorly) and I would suggest to watch that…..

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James -

Zac - Although The Last Airbender won’t get even close to recovering its $150m production costs (in addition to $130m in marketing costs) at the North American box office, it will likely not turn out to be the total disaster many had been predicting just a few days ago.

Are you a Psychic? If not, the above is the worst paragraph is persuasive. Cheers,

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renate -

Last Airbender is just so bad

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Angela -

Actually, in my area The Last Airbender wasn’t even shown in 3D. All the 3D screens are still showing Toy Story 3. If my memory serves me correctly it’s the first movie that has a 3D version but for whatever reason the movie theatre chains that control the local theatres here decide not to show this movie in 3D in my area. It leads me to wonder how many people actually have a choice to see it in 3D… then perhaps the numbers that come in for this movie isn’t *that* bad as one might imagine.

Reply

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