Source: Walt Disney Studios
The Na’vi return to the big screen this weekend as Disney seems to be rekindling interest in the newly acquired Avatar franchise, three months ahead of the debut of the long-delayed sequel, “Avatar: The Way of Water.”
Bringing the highest-grossing film of all time back to theaters has two goals for Disney: to spark excitement for “The Way of Water” and fill an empty spot on the theatrical calendar. The sequel is one of four to be released in the next ten years.
The reissue of the original film is a kind of litmus test to see if audiences still want to visit the eco-conscious science fiction world.
“Many questions have been asked about the film’s pop culture legacy over the past decade, but we also need to remember that James Cameron has been questioned before and proved a lot wrong,” said Shawn Robbins, principal analyst at BoxOffice.com.
Directed by Cameron, the mastermind behind “Titanic” and “The Terminator,” “Avatar” opened to much acclaim in late 2009 and huge financial success, eventually earning nine Oscar nominations. But it never took on the cultural relevance that Star Wars or the Marvel Cinematic Universe — both also owned by Disney — have enjoyed. Toy sales collapsed and cosplayers wearing heavy blue makeup at pop culture fan conventions have become rare.
“Of course all eyes will be on the box office appearance this weekend, as it could be an indication of public interest in the December release of ‘The Way of Water,'” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.
“Avatar” captivated audiences more than a decade ago, in part because of the technology Cameron helped develop to film and animate the movie. The film was shot with the Fusion Camera System, created by Cameron and cinematographer Vince Pace. Academy Award-nominated films such as Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” and Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” also took advantage of this camera system.
Earlier systems used two cameras because filmmakers had determined that the human brain processes different information from different sides of the brain. So one part of the brain would process the movement of the image, while the other would process what was happening in the image.
Set more than ten years after the events of the first film, Avatar: The Way of Water tells the story of the Sully family.
Cameron and Pace invented a camera that could capture images in the same way as a human eye. The results were breathtaking – just look at the ticket sales.
On its first run, “Avatar” strictly spent $2.78 billion worldwide. It added additional ticket sales through reissues over the years and claimed the box-office crown of “Avengers: Endgame” in 2021 when it was redistributed in China, above $2.84 billion.
Most of the tickets sold for the film were for 3D shows, which are usually more expensive than regular tickets. These premium tickets next door, an extended nine-month run in theaters, helped bolster “Avatar’s” overall box office.
“We know that IMAX and other [premium format] screens are a major driver of the company now and in the future, but 3D’s popularity in North America declined rapidly in the years following ‘Avatar’s’ original release,” Robbins said. “With very rare exceptions, 3D began simply a lot of moviegoers for various reasons – some of which filmmakers can control, but not all.”
This ‘3D gold rush’ in the wake of ‘Avatar’, as Dergarabedian calls it, led to an oversaturation of the market. Many of the 3D releases were conversions of movies that were not well suited to the format and as a result, the quality declined and so did the public interest.
Although 3D movies have fallen out of favor with domestic audiences, they remain exceptionally popular internationally, especially in China. Indeed, “Avatar” made most of its money outside of the US – a whopping $2.08 billion.
“Reading between the lines for this distribution plan makes it seem like Disney and 20th Century Studios are gauging the state of 3D’s branding and they can use the box office results to inform how ‘The Way of Water’ is being handled,” Robbins said. “While Cameron wants to push the 3D version for fans who want to see it as he filmed it, it’s also hard to ignore the very large audience that has never been more enamored with the format than with other 2D films. premium display options.”
Current estimates for the film’s reissue range from $7 million to $12 million, with box office analysts saying a mid-teens figure would be “huge.” It also faces stiff competition from the historical action epic ‘The Woman King’, which is a… strong opening last weekend and could be prepared for a long, successful run at the box office.
“It would be a huge understatement to say that the ‘Avatar’ brand is being driven a lot and that at least three more filmed episodes are on the way,” Dergarabedian said. “This weekend’s reissue of the original will be the hub of what the future holds for the Pandora universe and beyond.”