‘Avatar’ Returning To Top Of Box Office Charts Shouldn’t Surprise Anyone

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Thirteen years after becoming the biggest movie in cinema history and less than three months ahead of the sequel Avatar: The Way of Water, James Cameron’s blockbuster sci-fi extravaganza Avatar returned to the top of box office charts this weekend with $30 million in global receipts, in a remarkable success that shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s paying attention.

It’s silly to look at the way Avatar became a worldwide phenomenon with 34 weeks in release that made it the highest-grossing film of all time and spawned worldwide obsession with the fictional aliens known as the Na’vi and their home world of Pandora, or the way the film changed how CGI and motion capture are utilized in cinema, or how the film launched the modern revival and popularity of 3D (yes, despite typical treatment of U.S. trends as defining broad audience tastes worldwide, 3D remains immensely popular if other countries’ audiences matter to your view of reality), or how the film’s return to theaters more than a dozen years later put it instantly atop the box office around the world again, and walk away sniffing, “I still don’t think it was culturally relevant.”

On a deeper level, if you think Avatar lacked social resonance and relevance or a significant influence on our pop culture thinking, consider the fact this film released amid the so-called “war on terror” and had domestic U.S. audiences cheering for indigenous people not only resisting but specifically launching a counter-offensive against an occupation by what are overtly coded as U.S. military and mercenary forces. That’s no small feat, dear readers, and it’s a point I’ve discussed several times before — including in my interview with Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd a few years back, which you can read here.

More silly is the self-delusion evidenced by many would-be film pundits and too man among general genre fandom who cling to the notion Avatar: The Way of Water will fail to become another box office consuming blockbuster. “Nobody wants an Avatar sequel” is perhaps the least self-aware prediction I’ve heard from anyone discussing movies and ticketing in a long time.

I have no doubt whatsoever that Avatar 2 will still top at least $1+ billion if a Covid surge and post-U.S.-elections disruptions take place.

Without such major external factors undermining normal box office performance, Avatar 2 will surely top at least $1.5 billion. Indeed, I am already entirely comfortable saying I expect it will probably top $2 billion worldwide.

The fact this isn’t even a controversial suggestion outside of more fringe predictions and fandom, and that the vast majority of entertainment journalists would likely agree a $1 billion to $1.5 billion result is reasonable and likely, speaks to any attempts to frame the discussion as “Avatar lacked any enduring pop culture footprint” or “Nobody wants an Avatar sequel.”

The main basis for claiming a lack of pop culture footprint is lack of merchandising sales. That’s it, really. Any claim that nobody talks about Avatar is another silly and unserious suggestion, since it’s easy enough to find consistent discussion about the film over the years — including among those who can’t stop talking about their view that nobody talks about it.

None of this is especially new for a James Cameron film, of course. The eye-rolling pronouncements that he is overreaching, that he’s making a doomed project, that his films lack relevance for viewers, or that he is just ripping off other superior stories have dogged many of his projects until the moment they opened and it started becoming obvious hits. Again. And again. And again.

So it will be when Avatar: The Way of Water hits theaters in mid-December and quickly takes over the box office. And once all of the new Avatar merchandise becomes top sellers for Christmas, expect the “Avatar doesn’t matter” crowd to weep tears.

Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Titanic, Avatar — all of these films had loud detractors who insisted Cameron was going to fall flat on his face. Every time, those detractors were proven laughably wrong. And yet every time, those detractors failed to learn the obvious lesson.

I always say, “Never bet against James Cameron,” and to date I’ve seen no evidence to refute this proposition. It doesn’t matter whether you like Cameron or his films, I honestly don’t care at all if folks enjoy the same films I enjoy. But regardless of your personal tastes and views about those films, it shouldn’t be hard to admit that yes, of course, clearly, he makes successful films and people have consistently underestimated his ability to do so.

Remember that when Avatar: The Way of Water hits theaters.

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