UPDATE (January 27th, 2010): Hey everybody, Avatar passed Titanic as king of the box office! Isn’t that awesome? Boy, did I get that wrong. My full analysis/apology here.
ORIGINAL POST (Published January 5th, 2010):
Let me just be clear, I liked Avatar. Okay? So please don’t take this as a hit piece or trying to tear the movie down. It’s awesometown with a capital A. But now that the movie has overcome its Smurf reputation to be a breakaway success, the inevitable conversation has begun on when it will take down Titanic as the highest grossing film of all time.
As our own Mark Lorenz reported, Avatar had crossed the one billion dollar cash barrier over the weekend, and numerous stories have since emerged all but declaring Titanic finally dethroned. The problem is, none of them seemed to base their predictions off…you know, anything rational. Now, I grant you, box office results can be tricky to predict. That’s how things like Ghost Rider open to 50 million dollars.
But follow me here. The best comparison to be made is with 2008′s The Dark Knight, another film everyone in the world thought would dethrone Titanic. Dark Knight opened to $158,411,483 its first weekend, with a screen count of 4,366. Set this against Avatar’s opening week of $77,025,481 in 3,452 screens. Already we’re low, but Titanic also opened low.
By week two, Dark Knight was at $313,781,677 (4,366 screens) against Avatar’s $212,717,184 (3,456 screens).
Now it’s true that Avatar had an excellent week three, coming in at a total of $352,111,000. But that was also a holiday week that benefited from kids being out of school. It probably won’t have another week like that. Additionally, it has competition showing up as early as January 15.
The Book of Eli arrives then, bringing with it audience favorite Denzel Washington. And a week after that, both Legion and Extraordinary Measures arrive on January 22. Finally, Universal unleashes The Wolfman remake on February 12. I’m not saying those movies will be be better than Avatar, or even that great period, but they will be competitive.
One of the reasons that Titanic rode to greatness is that it went unchallenged for almost six months at the number one spot. That will almost not be the case here. The final predictor may be found in The Dark Knight’s fifth week. That was the week it saw its biggest drop without a great screen reduction (-435%), when it fell to second place behind Tropic Thunder. After that it never kept up the steam it left the gate with, and settled for fourth place. Perhaps they were calling from an unknown phone number.
Should Avatar see the same drop at week five, it probably won’t overtake Titanic either. The past Sunday saw its steepest decline at -32% from the day before. Now, should Fox continue to increase screens, or all of the movies I just mentioned somehow fail to show up opening weekend, Avatar could prove to be the tentpole-movie-that-could.
But like I said, I liked the movie and am rooting for it. Between Avatar and District 9, 2009 was a great year for original Science Fiction. I now open the floor to debate.
(Box office numbers and screen count provided by Box Office Mojo).