The fact that SciFiNow isn’t the greatest fan of James Cameron’s Avatar has been well-documented, from a lukewarm review to a recent opinion column. It is, however, impossible to underestimate how popular it has been with the public, as the film looks set to pass Titanic as the top-grossing film of all time, before inflation. Recent figures from BOM suggest Avatar has grossed $1.836.1 billion internationally, while Titanic’s record stands at $1.842.9 billion.
Cameron’s 3D sci-fi actioner has taken the cinema by force, and its progress seems to be unstoppable. It’s amazing, really, as we thought that the film would tail off around the $1.3 billion mark on its initial release, but the Martin Luther King weekend in the United States helped add so much to its total, along with strong and consistent international performance, that it just continued to rise. News Corp, the parent company of Fox, has hardly been able to contain its glee in the media. “It’s kind of like Usain Bolt breezing in the quarterfinals of the Olympics 100M — stretching out a lead but with no real competition,” crowed one anonymous executive to Deadline Hollywood. “I like the fact that people like it, and it’s going to gross $2 billion, and add $400 million to the bottom line of News Corp. One movie only. Imagine that. Shocking. I’m really happy for these results,” said Saudi royal Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the second-largest shareholder in the corporation, to Charlie Rose.
Avatar has enjoyed a perfect storm of circumstance and method in its success. It entered release at a time when there was no major competition, the rival studios having already released their major tentpoles such as Star Trek, Transformers 2, District 9 and others. Its only real challenge was from Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law, which it comprehensively blew out of the water (along with everything else). Its extraordinary box office take, practically unheard of since Cameron’s last major release, Titanic, is also down to other factors. Many are praising the fact that people are giving such an overt science-fiction film a chance in their droves but, and I cannot stress this strongly enough, the price of a single admission is significantly higher than any 2D release. This has contributed enormously to the film’s receipts, which would never have been as high without it. Finally, the gimmick of the 3D should never be underestimated. People are more or less universally agreed that the story is more or less off the back of a cigarette packet, but it’s the novelty of the third dimension that has compelled them to watch it.
The critical adulation of the film will dim noticeably once Avatar is released onto the plain old 2D DVD and Blu-ray format, at least for those of us who still don’t have the Fort Knox-esque cash reserves to be early adopters of 3D televisions. Likewise, now that so many have gone out and seen 3D in action to mixed reception, it stands to reason that the horde of three-dimensional films planned for release might suffer from reduced attendance as a result. Curiosity has been sated, my friends, and it’s all fitting nicely into Rupert Murdoch’s back pocket, thank you very much.
I am glad that a science-fiction film has reached the zenith of box office tables, but before we all start slavishly adoring Avatar’s indisputably high achievement, let’s all keep it in context.