Avatar to Lose 3-D and IMAX Screens, Still Breaks Records

by Anne Thompson
February 25, 2010 1:55 AM
9 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood
We all know that Avatar has broken all box office records, unseating former king of the world Titanic. The James Cameron sci-fi epic holds the record for domestic ($690 million) and worldwide ($2.5 billion) gross.

Avatar is in the running for a few Oscars March 7th as well. With nine nominations, it can't possibly compete with Cameron's other epic, which in 1997 won eleven Oscars (a record shared by Ben Hur and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King). As a sci-fi fantasy adventure, Avatar will probably settle for four or five technical prizes. But Oscar wins will unlikely boost its box office. If you haven't heard of Avatar at this point, you live in a cave.

Thompson on Hollywood
You may want to hit your local IMAX and 3-D theater before March 5 if you want to see Avatar in the ideal format one more time. By March 5 Avatar will lose most of its IMAX screens, and distributor Twentieth Century Fox will be fighting with theater owners to hang on to as many 3-D screens as possible. That's because Disney's 3-D Alice in Wonderland is taking over. Right now Avatar is in 2581 locations of which 2169 are 3-D (including 179 IMAX screens). Fox will probably exchange many of the 3-D screens it loses for 2-D, and Fox distrib chief Bruce Snyder expects to stay in theaters for at least another month. "We're still selling out prime shows in 3-D in the evenings," he says.

The next big question is whether Fox will rerelease the movie. Expect a 3-D rerelease later this year and a bare-bones DVD release on Earth Day, April 22, in good old-fashioned 2-D. When 3-D blu-rays are available--Cameron says that could be as early as November, while Fox demurs--we'll get to see the enhanced bells-and-whistles DVD.

Back in 1997, Titanic stayed in theaters for a long, long time. To really put Avatar's record-breaking box-office in perspective--when price inflation and premium IMAX and 3-D tickets are factored in (Avatar broke the IMAX $200-million record last weekend)--the real measure is attendance. Right now Avatar is climbing the attendance chart toward the top-ten champions of all time.

Thompson on Hollywood

Avatar is currently positioned at #15 on Box Office Mojo's Box Office Attendance chart. (They take the domestic gross and divide it by the average ticket price of any given year, in this case, $7.50.) Next we'll see if Avatar can push into the top 10, and then overtake Titanic at #6. Could it ever pass the rereleased Star Wars at #2 or even Gone With The Wind, which has been comfortable at #1 for 71 years? Snyder points out that these films had far less competition from other entertainment, much less the internet. And that Birth of a Nation and The Great Train Robbery probably registered more global admissions before there were any box office records.

In order for Avatar to top Titanic, Star Wars or Gone with the Wind, it would need to remain timeless. How long will its visual peaks remain the Everest of cinematic potential? As audience tastes change over time, they keep demanding more. It takes a very special movie to satisfy them not just for a few years, but for decades.

[Chart courtesy Box Office Mojo; additional reporting by Sophia Savage.]

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9 Comments

  • stefan | February 26, 2010 12:51 AMReply

    The 'REAL' Movie Gross List (TOP 50)

    Avatar is nr. 2!!!

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0499549/board/flat/155176384?d=155176384&p=1#155176384

  • John | February 25, 2010 9:42 AMReply

    Avatar

  • jamais | February 25, 2010 8:50 AMReply

    In Britain (and I imagine other countries where it's present) Odeon is apparently boycotting "Alice" (story here: http://www.denofgeek.com/movies/421048/odeon_chain_definitely_boycotting_alice_in_wonderland.html ). In my country (and some others in Europe which have the Orange chain) IMAXes have decided to share screens - "Alice" gets 4-5 screenings a day, "Avatar" keeps at least one.

    So I think the real test for "Avatar" will come with the premiere of "Titans".

  • BO Dude | February 25, 2010 6:49 AMReply

    Ah, average ticket price for AVATAR is definitely not $7.50, try $10.00, conservatively. Especially considering that Fox is reporting that 73% of all tickets sold have been purchased in 3-D. If you factor that into the attendence record, it will NEVER catch GWTW, or even TITANIC for that matter. What AVATAR is doing is amazing, no doubt, but if you wanna talk attendance, you have to make a new chart because JAMES CAMERON has changed the paradigm.

  • alan | February 25, 2010 4:58 AMReply

    i'm sorry. but, the internet connection in my cave (where i happen to live) is a bit spotty tonight. did you say...av-a-tar?

  • jl | February 25, 2010 3:59 AMReply

    Would be interesting if there was a way to track "unique" audience members. I remember hearing that people would go see Titanic 5, 10 times. I saw Phantom Menace 3x (desperation to hope it would get better). I know people who saw Avatar 2-3 times as well.

  • PlanBFromOuterSpace | February 25, 2010 3:12 AMReply

    My biggest gripe with "adjusted for inflation" stuff is that it in no way figures in any other factors, like other entertainment options, etc. Back in the days of "Gone With the Wind", there was the chance that if you didn't see it in the theater right then and there, you might never get a chance to see it EVER. And man, film marketing was shaaaaaaady back then too.

  • jon solomon | February 25, 2010 3:11 AMReply

    Also, this "adjusted for inflation" list is only measuring domestic sales. Avatar's worldwide sales are even more impressive. Is there a inflation adjusted list for worldwide sales? I am sure Avatar would be very high on it.

  • jamais | February 25, 2010 1:21 AMReply

    Oh well, Disney won. ( http://www.denofgeek.com/movies/422875/odeon_chain_agrees_to_screen_alice_in_wonderland_after_all.html )

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