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Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2009:
#1: Avatar Is Almost Titanic

By David Mumpower

January 3, 2010

More of these plants should have been Na'vi eating.

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The wonderful aspect of a December holiday release is that its weekdays perform eerily similarly to Fridays and Saturdays. Also, a movie ordinarily does not experience any drop from the period around December 20th until the first Sunday after New Year's, in this case January 3rd. Avatar rode this wave to some unprecedented totals. Consider that the movie made $60.1 million during its first four weekdays in theaters. Anyone who follows our summer box office analysis here at BOP understands what an amazing weekday hold that is. Then, Avatar dropped less than 2% in its second weekend from its first one. In a seven day period, the running total of Avatar went from $77.0 million to $212.7 million. It is the next four days that were the most impressive, though. During its second (!) Monday-Thursday box office period, Avatar earned $71.1 million, an increase of 18% from the previous batch of weekdays. Yes, holiday inflation explains part of that but a movie earned this type of daily box office should slow down at least SOME. We're still waiting for Avatar to do that.

The second weekend of Avatar set a record for box office, edging The Dark Knight's previous record total of $75.2 million by $400,000. The third weekend is where the situation has gotten harder to logically reconcile. The standing record for third weekend box office total had been held by Spider-Man, which earned $45.0 million. Avatar's third weekend box office total is $68.3 million, a sizzling 52% increase over the best previous total. Down less than 10% from last weekend, it has a running total of $352.0 million after 17 days in release.

Avatar is currently racing The Dark Knight for the second most successful movie of all time in terms of domestic box office. Were that to happen, James Cameron would hold a claim to the TWO biggest box office performers all time in North America. The only question is the order of one versus two and yes, Avatar does have a chance at besting Titanic. Whether it does either of these feats or not, it has already crossed a billion in worldwide revenue, one of only five releases to do so. And it is a mortal lock to become at least the second most lucrative global performer to date, meaning that James Cameron has made the two best films of all-time in terms of worldwide box office. He has reclaimed his throne as King of the World.

Summarizing this year's list, in determining the most important industry stories of the year, we had originally vacillated between Paranormal Activity and New Moon. The latter film's single day box office record perfectly encapsulates the era of box office frontloading that has defined the 2000s. The former film is in the discussion (and probably the winner) for the most lucrative movie ever made in terms of capital required to create, market and distribute the release compared to its total revenue earned. In a lot of years, either of these stories would justify being named as the most important of the year.




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Avatar blew both of them out of the water for the following reasons. During our first list in 2003, we named The Passion of the Christ's pre-release buzz as one of the biggest stories of the year due to the controversy it had unintentionally (?) created. Avatar, James Cameron's follow-up to the all-time box office champion, merited placement on the upper half of the list for that reason alone. Merely the existence of Avatar and the complications in its creation was a big story.

Also, during the course of discussing the 2009 list, I mentioned our schism over Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. One film was the strongest domestic performer of 2009 prior to Avatar while the other was the strongest international performer of 2009 prior to Avatar. Each of them justified placement on the list for that reason. Avatar combines both elements in one story.

In fact, Avatar has already passed a billion dollars in terms of global revenue and in a matter of days will become the second most successful overall performer of all time. Globally, it has earned more in 17 days of release than The Dark Knight earned worldwide in a full year. Just try spinning your head around that for a moment. We named The Dark Knight as the most important story of 2008 and the vote was such a runaway that we added a "DUH!" at the end. Avatar is that story, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs and the pre-release hype of The Passion of the Christ all rolled into one, making it the mega-story of the decade. A dozen years after the release of Titanic, James Cameron has duplicated that film's success and thereby proven himself to be THE icon of our industry.


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