Avatar Passes Titanic

By David Mumpower

February 3, 2010

I know we're just fictional CGI characters, but shouldn't we ask for a raise?

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Today is the big day. Avatar has surpassed Titanic to become the most successful domestic performer of all-time after previously claiming the title as largest worldwide revenue earner ever last week. Its Tuesday box office total of $2,688,514 makes its total domestic box office $601,141,551, thereby surpassing Titanic's final total of $600,788,188, a record that had stood since July 23, 1998. BOP's staff has compiled a few tidbits you may or not find interesting we will begin to disseminate in the coming days as well as some thoughts about how history will remember Avatar's unprecedented box office run. Expect more discussion along these lines as it continues to be the biggest movie story of the 2000s. But first, how did we get here? Well...

On March 14, 1998, Titanic surpassed Star Wars to become the number one domestic box office film of all time. The latter film had started 1997 by bumping its previous box office tally of $322.7 million all the way up to $460.9 million due to the popularity of its special effects-enhanced re-release. By the time the summer of 1997 rolled around, no one believed there was a title on the horizon that could surpass the George Lucas epic to become the champion. Had a list of titles been offered, no one would have suggested Titanic, a troubled production whose release was moved from that summer until December of 1997 due to numerous difficulties with the film's final cut. To the shock of all industry analysts at the time, James Cameron somehow pulled off such a feat in making Titanic the gold standard in cinematic success stories. The film earned $600.8 million domestically as well as $1.8 billion worldwide and won 11 Academy Awards to boot.


A dozen years later, history has repeated itself. Cameron took an extended vacation from big budget productions, instead choosing to spend his time championing emerging technologies and overseeing a couple of documentaries. He was waiting for the right time for movie special effects to catch up to his vision for his next project, a decision that was roundly criticized by all of the people in the industry who always line up to throw stones at the director. This is an industry based on ego and insecurity and nobody likes the smartest and most talented guy in the room. When footage from his long awaited project Avatar was released, its photo-realistic artificial characters were the source of much debate with the consensus opinion being that the movie looked shiny. The trailers were a mixed bag, however, as the storyline revealed itself in surprising detail, promising a paint by numbers linear tale of a soldier going native and rebelling against his own people. A lot of people derided the commercials for falling in the void between World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy videogame graphics without offering anything near the caliber of storyline previously offered by the director in Titanic. Oddly, those criticisms only grew louder over time as Avatar began to do the impossible.

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