Avatar is #1 All-Time Box Office Movie

Published 5 years ago by

avatar box office numbers Avatar is #1 All Time Box Office Movie

I bet all those naysayers and doubters about how well Avatar would do at the box office have little to say now. James Cameron’s Avatar has surpassed Titanic as the number one all time grossing film worldwide. A fact that differs widely from the opinion of those who said it couldn’t beat The Twilight Saga: New Moon

Yesterday, Monday January 25th, Avatar hit the $1.843 billion mark, finally passing the director’s other success story about that sinking ship. No one can doubt James Cameron ever again when it comes to what he can do with any property and Fox Studios has smiles all around. I’m waiting for Cameron to come out and say he’s “King of the World” (of Pandora this time?).

While sitting high as the #1 worldwide, Avatar still has a bit to go in terms of domestic gross with a little under $50 million needed at the U.S. box office until it passes Titanic, which sits around the $600 million mark.

Despite this movie being what I would say is one of the biggest word-of-mouth successes for a film for all audiences – especially considering that it’s not based on any book, TV show and not a remake, etc – there are some who question the dollar success due to the nature of the film being a 3D event, meaning higher ticket prices for the 3D glasses and the IMAX experience. Although Avatar hit it big and became the “game changer” it was touted to be for the industry’s push into the 3D genre, no other 3D film has hit anywhere close to Avatar’s success. In fact, no other 3D film has even gotten close to HALF of what Avatar has made, which is very telling.

So far, the film has earned itself a massive fanbase, surprisingly fantastic critical reception and even some major awards including Best Director and Best Drama at the Golden Globes last week. The question going forward, is how well it will do at the Oscars with films like The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds getting some well-deserved attention recently on the award circuit.

There will no doubt be a sequel to Avatar, but the questions of when will it come out, what it will be about, who will be involved and will Cameron again take the reins is still up in the air. I doubt it can make as much as the first Avatar as it won’t be new anymore, nor will the technology employed or the world of Pandora. Perhaps that’s why there’s been hints of exploring other moons or the interior of the lively planet for the planned Avatar trilogy.

As Avatar continues to break records, it will soon break the $2 billion mark, something no one ever dreamed was possible for an original flick based on overly-tall blue aliens in the future.

My only fear is seeing films that shouldn’t be in 3D, getting the basic 3D treatment for the sake of allowing for higher ticket prices (I’m looking at you Clash of the Titans). With more and more studios pushing for their movies to be in 3D, the 3D effect and experience is quickly becoming something not special and something of an annoyance for the gimmicks employed in a lot of these movies and especially the higher ticket costs which I believe will start deterring some moviegoers.

What do you expect of Avatar 2 in terms of story and box office success? And how do you feel about so many movies talking about 3D?

Get our free email alerts on the topics and author of this article:


Post a Comment

GravatarWant to change your avatar?
Go to Gravatar.com and upload your own (we'll wait)!

 Rules: No profanity or personal attacks.
 Use a valid email address or risk being banned from commenting.

If your comment doesn't show up immediately, it may have been flagged for moderation. Please try refreshing the page first, then drop us a note and we'll retrieve it. Keep in mind that we do not allow external links in the comments.

  1. Inflation adjusted it is no.26. Just to be clear.

  2. There's more to it that needs to be taken into account than inflation and it's nearly as simply as that.

    For a real picture, Just look how Avatar compares to other films of the last 5 or 10 years. Movies from decades ago came out in a different environment. Go back WAY long ago and there were few movies in theaters, there were less alternatives for forms of entertainment, there wasn't home theaters or DVDs to rent/buy and movies lasted in theaters for significantly longer.

  3. Plus there is the extra cost of going to see Avatar, more than double that of seeing a normal movie in some places. That must have an effect in the final gross.

    I'm not trying to take away from its achievement at all, i think it is amazing that a sci fi fantasy flick is the highest grossing of all time, maybe it will show the people who istantly dissmiss this kind of movie that it deserves to be taken seriously.

  4. “surprisingly fantastic critical reception”

    Yes, the fantastic critical reception is indeed surprising given the underwhelming quality of the film overall.

    Bandwagon response (even for something as overrated as Avatar) has always been a powerful thing, though. This seems to be one such example.

    “What do you expect of Avatar 2 in terms of story and box office success?”

    Avatar 2 will be just as overhyped as #1 was – perhaps even more so. By then, however, the novelty will probably have worn off and the 2nd film won't do as well (most likely).

    Of course, with ticket prices being much more expensive nowadays (compared to other movies that have actually outsold Avatar in unit volume), it's also possible that the 2nd film might make even more.

    But if Cameron actually makes an awesome movie the second time around (such as what he did with Terminator 2), then perhaps the next film will be more deserving of the praise that's being heaped on this one …. except that with regard to the Terminator series, the first film actually deserved the overwhelmingly positive reception – and T2 went on to top even that.

    That's the James Cameron I miss.

    We'll see.

  5. Yeah I would rather see tickets sold versus how much it makes. A $5 movie 13 years ago is different then a $13 movie today.

  6. Like mentioned, I think the word-of-mouth aspect is one of the biggest parts of this big box office boom. The opening weekend was mediocre compared to what it became in the following weekends. I think that much is really, really cool. I saw it opening night, and there wasn't a big Harry Potter crowd by any means, and I could just tell that, after seeing it of course, there was going to be a lot of word spread about the movie.

    As for the sequels, I really don't know what to expect. It's one of those things where either the fans/general population could get over it really quickly, or the added time it takes to make the films (a couple of years at least) could allow for some kids to be old enough to go see it if their parents didn't let them see it the first time around. So I really couldn't guess. Sometimes the sequels hit big and sometimes they don't. I suppose we'll have to wait for the advertising for the next one.

  7. Yes, it's at #26 with 75,980,500 tickets sold … as opposed to other films such as:

    Titanic: 128,345,900
    Raiders of the Lost Ark: 88,141,900
    Star Wars: 178,119,600
    Gone With the Wind: 202,044,600
    Star Wars Episode I: 84,825,800

  8. Yup. Still impressive. But maybe ticket sales should be taken into account rather than just the ammount of money it made.

    Surely the volume of people who see it should be the benchmark.

  9. I completely agree – ticket volume is the better indicator of how well a movie is received at the box office. It's easy to get awe-struck by dollar figures, but those numbers are a far cry from the reality of how many people are actually sitting in the seats.

    In fact, given how much oohing and ahhing we're hearing about Avatar, it's a bit surprising to see that it hasn't even surpassed Episode One yet in the U.S.!

    Episode ONE … I mean, come ON!!

  10. You guys are all just Avatar haters.

    Just kidding! I agree on the ticket sales vs gross $$.

    It is of course an achievement (crazy money!) but if you want to do a comparison that takes the economic situation into consideration, look at the last U.S. recession that began in 1982. Return of the Jedi opened during that period and is still above Avatar in ticket sales.

    “But that's a sequel in a super-popular franchise” you say? Well how about E.T. which opened the following summer while the recession was well on its way? That's at #4 and 1983 was already the era of multiplex cinemas but pre-internet/twitter/facebook/blogger buzz mania.

    So yes, it's a huge accomplishment but it can be put in perspective.

    Of course that now makes me an Avatar hater, but whatever.


  11. I agree that #tickets sold is important, but you can't compare # tickets sold today to two decades ago. Like I said above, different climate for the film industry. Home Video, other forms of entertainment, shorter lifespans at the box office, WAY more movies, etc. etc.

    I think that's a cop-out excuse to downplay the film's success.

    YES, it's in 3D and has higher average ticket prices. That applies for ALL 3D movies and this one dominated all of those. With Toy Story 3 coming out in 3D, will that beat Avatar?

  12. Rob I would call it a Financial Success. Maybe that's what people are getting hung up on? As for the other climates…just goes to show you how much utter crap Hollywood puts out there. They're in the mind set of throw it against the wall and see if it sticks.

    Number of tickets sold though can't be ignored. Sorta like Mark McGwire admitting to using steroids while breaking the Home Run record. Each got a boost from an artificial source, IMHO.

    No one will beat Avatar for a very long time in terms of $$$. (BTW, I'm not saying Cameron and Fox broke the law with Avatar lol).

    I wonder though, would Cameron and Fox buy thousands of tickets for their own movie just to inflate their numbers knowing that they would end up receiving most of that money back? Let the conspiracies begin!

  13. I don't think it's a cop out – I think it's just another valid metric.

    According to Box Office Mojo, the average ticket price right now is $7.35. I've read that 75-89% of Avatar ticket sales have been either 3D or IMAX, which adds what, anywhere from $3-5 per ticket. On average this comes to over 35% more right off the bat.

    So yes, people were WILLING to pay all that extra money for an event movie – I'm not arguing that. I just don't get all the angst about questioning ANYTHING about this film.


  14. I should think Fox are smiling to themselves, yes it's Cameron but they were still taking a huge gamble with a movie with that budget and it paid off in spades.

  15. I would also wonder how many people decided to download this movie rather than see it in a theather. I have a friend at work that refuses to see any movie in theather he was able to watch avatar in the comfort of his home 3 days after release could you do that with any any of the top ticket sales movies?

  16. Congratulations to Mr. Cameron on his huge success! And congratulations to Fox Studios for taking a huge gamble and have it pay off immensely.

  17. Here we go again.

    It is a cop-out to argue ticket volume. A movie is not trying to sell the most tickets – it's trying to net high profits. Where the hell does “most tickets sold” really come into play except for the sake of some stupid prosperity?

    If two guys own Ice cream parlors and one says “Hey I sold more ice cream than you today,” But the other guy says “True, but my ice cream costs more and I made more money than you today.” Which one of those guys is more likely to survive a recession?

    The entire theory of hi-end merchandise works on this theory – and hi-end merchandise is usually pretty immune to economic flux. More to the point, in that Ice Cream example, Guy #2 still has more ice cream in stock to sell before he has to pay to re-stock! (Of course that doesn't apply to movies but it is smarter from a business standpoint.)

    Also: context counts. It's not just how many tickets you sell – as Rob pointed out, it's WHEN you're selling them. Sure prices are inflated, but it's also harder to get people into theaters these days – not just because of alt forms of entertainment but also due to the current economic climate. Hollywood (as we saw from this “record year in movie profits”) is basically being carried by a handful of big earners right now. We all saw how well that worked out for the music industry…

    So yeah, I'm with Rob and against some of the other SR team members on this. Avatar is a monumental success – no matter what asterisk you want to try to throw in there.

    Next they'll accuse the film of using performance enhancers and demand it return its profits! LOL.

  18. “It is a cop-out to argue ticket volume. A movie is not trying to sell the most tickets – it's trying to net high profits.”

    It's far from being a cop-out; it's putting a realistic picture on the story.

    Avatar has made gobs of money not merely because hoards of people are going to see it (as compared to many of the other films that were attended by far more people), but mostly because it's an expensive ticket to buy.

  19. …Which is the point of the movie business, last time I checked. This whole mentality of “hoards of people going to see it” is based on the antiquated notion that that is the formula for higher profits.

    Arguing ticket volume means NOTHING. What is the point of it? What does it prove?

  20. Kofi,

    You are one of the most reasonable and rational people I know both on and offline, so your extremely defensive stance on this really surprises me. No one is arguing Avatar isn't a HUGE success, but I can tell you that EVERY article I've read today across a wide variety of sites (granted I haven't read them all, but I've read about a half dozen, not all blogs) has mentioned both ticket sales and inflation. Every. One.

    When talking about breaking records, why is ONLY box office $$ valid? What is invalid about other records? In my opinion, “regular” people care about records as a measure of popularity, not how much money they contributed to studio coffers. You're absolutely right when you say that's what matters to the studios, but for fans/haters of any film I think what matters to them is how popular it is, regardless of box office dollar amount. The thing is that generally that's the most accurate measure of a film's popularity.

    All people are saying is that there are other records/numbers that are valid as well.



  21. Now keep in mind that movies back then stayed in theaters much longer. Star wars for example almost had a year in the theater. Now lets give those advantages to Avatar. I think you cant compare something from the past because the world of entertainment is different. People were able to do different things back then and vice versa. Also, the number of movies being made back then was nothing compared to the competition now.

  22. Tickets sold is the underlying basis for the box office $ return.
    Box Office return is the more popular and emotional statistic to report.

    Which means that if
    Movie A sells 10 million tickets at $7 a piece,
    Movie B sells 7.5 million tickets at $10 a piece,

    Then yes, movie B is the “Box Office” success… and “record breaker.”

    Yet the underlying metric that drove movie B to the top of the dollar metric also indicates that movie A was the preferred project by more, but fewer people who could afford movie B set it apart.

    There's no right or wrong. Each category speaks for itself, regardless of how it's spun or reflected upon. I just hate seeing the hype that doesn't give all the information behind the statistics behind the final $number. Avatar at an average of $7+ versus Titanic at $4+ a ticket is a no-brainer and fully expected.

    Face it, unlike any other movie that costs 2x as much as Titanic hasn't come close, so kudos to Avatar. And it's just continuing this sales momentum.

    And that's cool. A film finally dragged 3D into the forefront of everyone's attention span.

  23. Kofi, reasonable??? Do you not remember the rant he had on the Sherlock Holmes review?

  24. I actually really enjoyed the movie on a second viewing.

    But inflation matters, and ticket sales matter. To say that they dont is idiotic, a ticket to see Avatar costs twice as much as a ticket to see a normal movie even just two or three years ago, that has effected its total gross.

    Ticket sales means butts on seats, so surely the ammount of people who actually physically saw the movie is equally as important as how much coin it took?

  25. @ Vic and @ Bruce

    I'm taking this stance because I believe the stance that is being otherwise taken (no matter how many sites adopt it) is based on specious reasoning.

    I was a young person when Titanic was out. I can tell you that back then, we treated the movie experience much differently. It was easier to drop that $4 to go into a theater and waste 2-3 hours A) Because other than the mall, there weren't that many group activities B) The money amount was small enough to waste C) We didn't have any other media options for the weekend other than old video tapes. I remember when the numbers came out for Titanic and me thinking “Yeah, but how many of us are actually WATCHING the movie on the 3rd or 4th viewing?

    Also: in all these refutes, I'm not seeing any real explanation of what movie ticket volume counts for, other than “fans like to know.” Bruce addressed it, but I disagree with him in that while Avatar certainly made its money from repeat viewings, I believe more people saw it initially than most other movies, while fewer people went back to see it because of high ticket price. THose that DID go back to see it, I bet went back purely for the IMAX or 3D experience – i.e. the more expensive option, after deeming it worthy.

    In terms of popularity – the cultural impact has been HUGE. The critic response strong. The award wins telling. And the impact on the industry undeniable. Yet the attitudes toward the film are still somewhat condescending in tone.

    If I was Cameron, yeah, I'd be pompous as hell right now. Because the one thing all these sites, critics and naysayers AREN'T saying is “Hey, we underestimated you and your movie.” All I'm hearing is excuse making.

    Why am I so amped about all this? Because I've been calling this one for TWO YEARS NOW. From the moment I read about the technology being developed for it. I can't stand – CANNOT STAND when people open their mouths, spout their opinions and then try and back peddle. If Avatar had crashed and burned, I would have said my predictions were wrong and poked a little fun at myself.

    I have no problem about calling myself out about geeking out too hard over Watchmen and being wrong. I don't try to throw in some excuses about “domestic inflation vs. foreign inflation” and all that crap. I say “Oh well, I picked the wrong option, silly me.” and move on.

  26. Beckett

    Yeah so ticket volume means is undeniable proof? In 1996 Striptease and Phenomenon were released within a week of one another at a local theater in my town. I joined a sizeable portion of my high school class in buying tickets to an afternoon show of Phenomenon then sneaking in to see Striptease.

    So by ticket volume and sales Phenomenon was the more popular movie – but ask around the halls of my school and all people were talking about was striptease. Nobody had even seen Phenomenon.

    I'm not arguing ticket sales vs. volume. I'm saying, simple and plain, that Avatar is one of the most successful movies of all time. My gripe is that people are trying to find ways to downplay that statement, in large part (I believe) to boost their own incorrect predictions.

    I'm simply calling them out on it. If you're not one of those people (whomever is reading this) then I'm not talking to you.

  27. “…Which is the point of the movie business, last time I checked.”

    So, you're saying that you would consider a film to be hugely successful across a wide spectrum if they charged $1 million per ticket and only 600 people chose to buy one?

    “Arguing ticket volume means NOTHING. What is the point of it? What does it prove?”

    It means a whole heck of a lot more than you are willing to admit; as far as the point of it, I think you know the point it proves: that the film isn't as astronomically popular as its uber-fans are attempting to claim. Especially when held beside other (and often better) films.

  28. As long as Avatar 2 isn't the plot of Cinderella, or Sleeping beauty, I'll be seeing it at theaters. Let us hope that it will be even more successful with a more original plot!

  29. Let me start by saying that I think I understand both sides because while Box Office is the most used measure for success I also believe that the number of people who have actually seen the movie is of extreme importance.

    With that said, I just wanted to point out that the article is about the 1st place in All Time Box Office results and as Rob said, all the people that predicted a failure were very mistaken.
    I don't believe that when people said Avatar would not be a success they were thinking about ticket volume. I simply don't. Almost everyone (to exclude those guys who always say 'not true') was thinking about the financial success (or failure), and that is simply the money they earned from it.
    For this reason I think that bringing up numbers about ticket volume is just picking at it. Since it wasn't a financial failure, some people needed to find a reason to undermine it's success. And while that indicator is very important and interesting, I just don't see it brought up when talking about other movies box office results. Sure, when it gets as big as Avatar you can't just compare it to other greats by the box office results, but when determining if the chance the studio took has been paid off or not, it is by that indicator.
    And honestly, I am yet to meet someone who thinks about the number of butts in seats when making a prediction about a movie success..