Why ‘Avengers: Endgame’ Gave James Cameron Hope For ‘Avatar 2’ (Box Office)

'Avatar'

'Avatar'

Fox

It turns out even James Cameron was worried about our current Netflix/VOD theatrical era. The theatrical industry is very different than what it was in late 2009/early 2010 when Avatar opened to strong reviews and white-hot buzz and legged it from a $77 million weekend to $760 million domestic and $2.789 billion worldwide. 2009 was one of the last years where original movies and/or star-driven high-concepts had a shot in hell at breaking out, as we saw with everything from Taken to The Hangover to District 9 to Where the Wild Things Are to Paranormal Activity. Today, especially over the last three years, audiences get their filmed entertainment via streaming and VOD platforms, and audiences only go to theaters if there is something specific they want to see in theaters.

Rare exceptions aside, audiences now tend to flock to established brands with marquee characters, be it a new installment of a franchise they once loved or a new movie featuring a character they want to see onscreen. That can mean another Jurassic Park movie, a remake of The Lion King, a Freddy Mercury biopic or a Deadpool flick. In 2002, The Bourne Identity and xXx broke out because they were new and different takes on the James Bond-type spy movie. However, in 2016 and 2017, Jason Bourne and xXx: Return of Xander Cage both existed because they were new installments in franchises that were established and familiar. Audiences flock to genre films only if they are encased in superhero properties, and they tend to avoid straight-up star vehicles or studio programmers.

This is for another day, but maybe one reason Avatar’s record-breaking run didn’t have that much of a pop culture impact (at least initially) was that it wasn’t the beginning of a new era but a blaze-of-glory finale to an era. Even in 2009, it was considered noteworthy that Fox was letting Cameron spend $240 million on a wholly original sci-fi action fantasy. Today Fox spending even $80 million on a Brad Pitt outer-space flick is considered something of a risk. Director James Cameron was asked about Endgame passing Avatar to become the biggest (unadjusted) global grosser of all time. Despite my jokes about such a thing angering him enough to make him double-down to make sure Avatar 2 knocks our socks off, his actual response was both charitable and optimistic.

“It gives me a lot of hope,” Cameron told Deadline.Avengers: Endgame is demonstrable proof that people will still go to movie theaters. The thing that scared me most about making Avatar 2 and Avatar 3 was that the market might have shifted so much that it simply was no longer possible to get people that excited about going and sitting in a dark room with a bunch of strangers to watch something.”

As noted back in June, we should remember that Avatar received good-to-great reviews upon release, with any number of “Holy crap, the crazy son-of-a-bitch did it!” raves (including mine) leading to a $77 million debut weekend (the biggest for a live-action original) and a leggy late-2009/early-2010 run that pushed the film to $749 million domestic and $2.75 billion global (not counting the 2010 reissue). It was nominated for several major Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. It currently stands at 82% fresh with a 7.43/10 average critic score on Rotten Tomatoes. Its Rotten Tomatoes audience score is 82% with over 1.3 million voters and an average score of 4.13/5. It’s also at 83 on Metacritic with a 7.5 audience score. Its IMDB user score is 7.8/10 from over one million users.

Those user scores aren’t an exact science. However, unless there’s a contingent of hardcore Pandora fans out there upvoting the movie to make sure it maintains decent audience polling scores, I’d say that’s indicative of the general populace reaction. It made bank in post-theatrical as well. It remains second biggest-selling Blu-ray behind Walt Disney’s Frozen. Among physical home viewing formats (DVD, VHS, Blu), Avatar ranks sixth behind only various Disney toons (The Lion KingFinding NemoSnow White and the Seven DwarfsBeauty and the Beast, Aladdin) and, uh, Titanic. The only live-action title that got close was Spider-Man, which was the first mega-blockbuster of the DVD era. People flocked to Avatar in theaters, said nice things about it at the time and purchased it when it came to video.

That’s not even presuming that it becomes the biggest-grossing film of all time yet again. The best way to sell Avatar 2 is to remind folks of how well Avatar played in theaters. The easiest way to do that is to give the film a theatrical reissue of some kind. If that happens, and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t, it’s not unrealistic to presume that the film will earn the $6.7 million global difference which separates itself from Avengers: Endgame’s $2.796 billion worldwide cume. Heck, it’ll almost certainly make that much in China alone considering that Avatar earned $202 million a decade ago with just 10% of the current Chinese theatrical footprint. So, Disney could be able to sell Avatar 2 as the sequel to the biggest movie ever after all.

“Will Avatar 2 and 3 be able to create that kind of success in the zeitgeist? Who knows. We’re trying. Maybe we do, maybe we don’t, but the point is, it’s still possible,” Cameron said. “I’m happy to see it, as opposed to an alternate scenario where, with the rapid availability, custom-designed experience that everybody can create for themselves with streaming services and all the different platforms, that [theatrical potential] might not have existed anymore.”

If Avatar 2 “does it again,” and even a 50% drop would be $1.394 billion worldwide (between Black Panther and Avengers: Age of Ultron), it will be at the end of what could be a big year. Paramount has a new Rugrats and Mission: Impossible 7. Lionsgate has John Wick 4, and Sony has Hotel Transylvania 4. Warner Bros. has The Batman, The Suicide Squad, a Mortal Kombat reboot, Space Jam 2, Sherlock Holmes 3 and (for better or worse) Fantastic Beasts 3. Universal has a huge slate with Boss Baby 2, Fast & Furious 10, Jurassic World 3, Sing 2, Halloween Ends and Wicked. Disney/Fox has Shang-Chi, Doctor Strange 2, Thor 4, Cruella, a new Pixar, a new Disney Animation flick, Indiana Jones 5 and Avatar 2 to top it off.

While I’m sure Cameron’s comments are genuine, it’s every bit in Disney’s interest to make sure that Avatar 2 cements the property as something akin to Star Wars. They’ve got four Avatar sequels and (at least) three new Star Wars movies dated in alternating Christmas seasons from 2021 to 2027. We have no idea how a Skywalker-free Star Wars movie will perform beginning in 2022. I’d wager that first “new” Star Wars movie might get topped overseas by Aquaman 2. Disney would love to be able to have Avatar sequels kicking relative butt while they test the “just a Star Wars movie” waters. Cameron can be positive about Avengers: Endgame’s success because Disney will be determined, when the time comes, to make Cameron the king of the world yet again.

The irony of course is that, when Avatar 2 opens on December 17, 2021, it will not be a bold new original sci-fi vision, but rather a return to a known and “familiar” franchise, in this case, a brand whose popularity is (comparatively) as uncertain as was the first Avatar a decade ago. However, he’s right, in that the blow-out success of Avengers: Endgame shows that movies can still pull everyone into the theaters, and the sheer size of Endgame’s domestic ($357 million) and worldwide ($1.223 billion) opening weekend was beyond anything thought possible in the realms of modern moviegoing. I’m still not sure if any movie will ever pull numbers on that scale ever again, but the four upcoming Avatar sequels are certainly among those with an outside shot.

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It turns out even James Cameron was worried about our current Netflix/VOD theatrical era. The theatrical industry is very different than what it was in late 2009/early 2010 when Avatar opened to strong reviews and white-hot buzz and legged it from a $77 million weekend to $760 million domestic and $2.789 billion worldwide. 2009 was one of the last years where original movies and/or star-driven high-concepts had a shot in hell at breaking out, as we saw with everything from Taken to The Hangover to District 9 to Where the Wild Things Are to Paranormal Activity. Today, especially over the last three years, audiences get their filmed entertainment via streaming and VOD platforms, and audiences only go to theaters if there is something specific they want to see in theaters.

Rare exceptions aside, audiences now tend to flock to established brands with marquee characters, be it a new installment of a franchise they once loved or a new movie featuring a character they want to see onscreen. That can mean another Jurassic Park movie, a remake of The Lion King, a Freddy Mercury biopic or a Deadpool flick. In 2002, The Bourne Identity and xXx broke out because they were new and different takes on the James Bond-type spy movie. However, in 2016 and 2017, Jason Bourne and xXx: Return of Xander Cage both existed because they were new installments in franchises that were established and familiar. Audiences flock to genre films only if they are encased in superhero properties, and they tend to avoid straight-up star vehicles or studio programmers.

This is for another day, but maybe one reason Avatar’s record-breaking run didn’t have that much of a pop culture impact (at least initially) was that it wasn’t the beginning of a new era but a blaze-of-glory finale to an era. Even in 2009, it was considered noteworthy that Fox was letting Cameron spend $240 million on a wholly original sci-fi action fantasy. Today Fox spending even $80 million on a Brad Pitt outer-space flick is considered something of a risk. Director James Cameron was asked about Endgame passing Avatar to become the biggest (unadjusted) global grosser of all time. Despite my jokes about such a thing angering him enough to make him double-down to make sure Avatar 2 knocks our socks off, his actual response was both charitable and optimistic.

“It gives me a lot of hope,” Cameron told Deadline.Avengers: Endgame is demonstrable proof that people will still go to movie theaters. The thing that scared me most about making Avatar 2 and Avatar 3 was that the market might have shifted so much that it simply was no longer possible to get people that excited about going and sitting in a dark room with a bunch of strangers to watch something.”

As noted back in June, we should remember that Avatar received good-to-great reviews upon release, with any number of “Holy crap, the crazy son-of-a-bitch did it!” raves (including mine) leading to a $77 million debut weekend (the biggest for a live-action original) and a leggy late-2009/early-2010 run that pushed the film to $749 million domestic and $2.75 billion global (not counting the 2010 reissue). It was nominated for several major Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. It currently stands at 82% fresh with a 7.43/10 average critic score on Rotten Tomatoes. Its Rotten Tomatoes audience score is 82% with over 1.3 million voters and an average score of 4.13/5. It’s also at 83 on Metacritic with a 7.5 audience score. Its IMDB user score is 7.8/10 from over one million users.

Those user scores aren’t an exact science. However, unless there’s a contingent of hardcore Pandora fans out there upvoting the movie to make sure it maintains decent audience polling scores, I’d say that’s indicative of the general populace reaction. It made bank in post-theatrical as well. It remains second biggest-selling Blu-ray behind Walt Disney’s Frozen. Among physical home viewing formats (DVD, VHS, Blu), Avatar ranks sixth behind only various Disney toons (The Lion KingFinding NemoSnow White and the Seven DwarfsBeauty and the Beast, Aladdin) and, uh, Titanic. The only live-action title that got close was Spider-Man, which was the first mega-blockbuster of the DVD era. People flocked to Avatar in theaters, said nice things about it at the time and purchased it when it came to video.

That’s not even presuming that it becomes the biggest-grossing film of all time yet again. The best way to sell Avatar 2 is to remind folks of how well Avatar played in theaters. The easiest way to do that is to give the film a theatrical reissue of some kind. If that happens, and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t, it’s not unrealistic to presume that the film will earn the $6.7 million global difference which separates itself from Avengers: Endgame’s $2.796 billion worldwide cume. Heck, it’ll almost certainly make that much in China alone considering that Avatar earned $202 million a decade ago with just 10% of the current Chinese theatrical footprint. So, Disney could be able to sell Avatar 2 as the sequel to the biggest movie ever after all.

“Will Avatar 2 and 3 be able to create that kind of success in the zeitgeist? Who knows. We’re trying. Maybe we do, maybe we don’t, but the point is, it’s still possible,” Cameron said. “I’m happy to see it, as opposed to an alternate scenario where, with the rapid availability, custom-designed experience that everybody can create for themselves with streaming services and all the different platforms, that [theatrical potential] might not have existed anymore.”

If Avatar 2 “does it again,” and even a 50% drop would be $1.394 billion worldwide (between Black Panther and Avengers: Age of Ultron), it will be at the end of what could be a big year. Paramount has a new Rugrats and Mission: Impossible 7. Lionsgate has John Wick 4, and Sony has Hotel Transylvania 4. Warner Bros. has The Batman, The Suicide Squad, a Mortal Kombat reboot, Space Jam 2, Sherlock Holmes 3 and (for better or worse) Fantastic Beasts 3. Universal has a huge slate with Boss Baby 2, Fast & Furious 10, Jurassic World 3, Sing 2, Halloween Ends and Wicked. Disney/Fox has Shang-Chi, Doctor Strange 2, Thor 4, Cruella, a new Pixar, a new Disney Animation flick, Indiana Jones 5 and Avatar 2 to top it off.

While I’m sure Cameron’s comments are genuine, it’s every bit in Disney’s interest to make sure that Avatar 2 cements the property as something akin to Star Wars. They’ve got four Avatar sequels and (at least) three new Star Wars movies dated in alternating Christmas seasons from 2021 to 2027. We have no idea how a Skywalker-free Star Wars movie will perform beginning in 2022. I’d wager that first “new” Star Wars movie might get topped overseas by Aquaman 2. Disney would love to be able to have Avatar sequels kicking relative butt while they test the “just a Star Wars movie” waters. Cameron can be positive about Avengers: Endgame’s success because Disney will be determined, when the time comes, to make Cameron the king of the world yet again.

The irony of course is that, when Avatar 2 opens on December 17, 2021, it will not be a bold new original sci-fi vision, but rather a return to a known and “familiar” franchise, in this case, a brand whose popularity is (comparatively) as uncertain as was the first Avatar a decade ago. However, he’s right, in that the blow-out success of Avengers: Endgame shows that movies can still pull everyone into the theaters, and the sheer size of Endgame’s domestic ($357 million) and worldwide ($1.223 billion) opening weekend was beyond anything thought possible in the realms of modern moviegoing. I’m still not sure if any movie will ever pull numbers on that scale ever again, but the four upcoming Avatar sequels are certainly among those with an outside shot.

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I've studied the film industry, both academically and informally, and with an emphasis in box office analysis, for nearly 30 years. I have extensively written about all

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