‘Avatar’ and ‘Avengers: Endgame’
China helped push Avengers: Endgame past Avatar in the summer of 2019. So it’s fitting/ironic that a Chinese rerelease has allowed Avatar to reclaim its global crown.
China giveth and China taketh away. Thanks to a surprise (in terms of timing) rerelease in China, Avatar has taken back the record from Avengers: Endgame as the biggest-grossing movie of all time in raw global grosses. The James Cameron film, whose $206 million success in 2009/2010 kicked off the modern era of Hollywood chasing Chinese grosses, earned $3.7 million on Friday and $9 million (!) on Saturday, pushing the current cume to $12.7 million and its overall global total to $2.802 billion. That’s good enough, in just two days, to pass the $2.79 billion global cume the Marvel superhero epic. This is mostly trivia, since Disney bought Fox in mid-2019 and thus Avatar is now under the Disney umbrella along with Marvel and Star Wars.
Ironically, it was only due to China that Avengers 4 took the crown in the first place. As strong as the overall worldwide grosses were for Avengers: Endgame, it was only thanks to China that the MCU “Infinity Saga” finale become the biggest grossing movie of all time. On average, Endgame earned around 27% more than Infinity War, including $867 million domestic (versus $679 million domestic for Infinity War). Had the film earned around 27% more than Infinity War’s gross ($357 million) in China as well, that would be a $454 million cume, which would be around $2.625 billion worldwide. However, the film jumped 71% above Infinity War, earning a record (for a Hollywood flick) $620 million, for a current $2.797 billion worldwide box office cume.
Again, this is mostly trivia in terms of global milestones, but this does mean that Disney will still be able to sell Avatar 2 as the sequel to the biggest-grossing movie of all time. As such, this result was inevitable, as Disney was always going to have to market Avatar 2 and a key part of that campaign was certain to be a theatrical release of the 2009 3-D original. That it happened now instead of October or November of 2022 is merely timing. With a possible weekend cume of over/under $25 million, this shows that the franchise still matters to general audiences in the biggest moviegoing marketplace, which means there’s less reason to worry about the eventual reception of Avatar 2, 3, 4 and 5.
In terms of the broader picture, it’s another example of China’s current box office dominance as North America slowly gets back on its feet. China closed their theaters in late January of 2020 and were very slowly starting to open again by April. By August, The Eight Hundred (an $80 million, shot-on-IMAX war epic) opened with $117 million and legged out to $470 million, becoming last year’s biggest global grosser right above China’s My People My Homeland ($430 million) and Hollywood’s Bad Boys for Life ($428 million including $204 million domestic). Meanwhile, just this year, Hi, Mom just passed $800 million yesterday while Detective Chinatown 3 A) broke the single-territory opening weekend record with $398.5 million and B) has now earned $686 million in China alone.
What about Hollywood? Well, Raya and the Last Dragon has $13.2 million and counting in China, while almost every 2020 Hollywood release (Wonder Woman 1984 with $25 million, Mulan with $41 million, Sonic the Hedgehog, with $2.9 million, etc.) bombed. The only halfway decent results for Hollywood films in 2020 were rereleases of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone ($27 million, enough to push the film’s global total past $1 billion) and Interstellar ($18 million, enough to push the Chris Nolan sci-fi flick’s total past $700 million). In retrospect, that makes last year’s $66 million Chinese gross for Tenet all the more impressive. And now Avatar could be the first Hollywood movie to top $55 million in China since Frozen II ($122 million in late 2019).
One major concern heading into 2020 was whether the increased popularity of Marvel/DC superhero movies like Venom, Aquaman, Captain Marvel and Spider-Man: Far from Home meant that China was about to become as superhero-dominated in terms of Hollywood franchises as was North America. There at least some franchise that remain “big” in China (Fast & Furious, Jurassic World, maybe Legendary’s MonsterVerse). This robust rerelease debut implies that Avatar can be added to the list of “safe” Hollywood franchises even as China tilts toward its own homegrown tentpoles at the comparative exclusion of Hollywood competition. And if Avatar 2 can be “hot in China” by modern standards, that may be the ballgame no matter how much the rest of the world cares about a return to Pandora.
I’ve studied the film industry, both academically and informally, and with an emphasis in box office analysis, for nearly 30 years. I have extensively written about all