avatar logo header Avatar Breaks $2 Billion

By Tara Lane, Staff Writer

It’s official — Avatar has become the highest grossing movie of all time. Earlier this week it was announced that the blockbuster film has brought in more than $2 billion worldwide. With multiple Golden Globe wins and numerous other awards, Avatar has become the biggest movie ever made.

The previous box-office record, held by the Cameron-directed Titanic, was in place for nearly 12 years. Mashable’s Christina Warren points out that it took Titanic nine months to reach its $1.8 billion record, while Avatar accomplished that task in a matter of weeks. The formula for each movie is similar – bank-breaking budgets, stunning graphics and special effects, and holiday release dates – so what has made Avatar so successful, so fast?

James Cameron could have made this movie completely through animation; instead, he chose to use performance capture technology to make the film one-of-a-kind. The result of this technology is a major reason why the movie has been so successful. Though Pandora isn’t a real place, Cameron made it reality. No one could resist seeing how this technology translated into film — and for many viewers, it’s exceeded their expectations. Though the storyline is somewhat predictable, audiences are drawn to the stunning visuals of Pandora and the imagined creatures that dwell there.

In addition to breaking a box office record, Avatar has also broken a record for 3-D movie viewership: Avatar’s 3-D sales contributed to 75 percent of all 3-D ticket sales combined in 2009. In 3-D, Avatar is less of a movie, and more of an experience in itself. This could also explain its massive box office numbers. While the movie can be pirated, the experience of viewing it in 3-D cannot be captured by any other device. James Cameron himself said, “You can pirate a 3D movie but you can’t pirate it in 3D, so you can’t bottle that 3D experience.”

Pre-release hype is also a major source of the movie’s popularity. For weeks, reports circulated of Avatar’s $500 million dollar production budget – the most expensive in movie history. Critics balked at the numbers, and referenced movies in the past that had large budgets but ultimately failed. They also wondered if Avatar would even make enough money at the box office to balance out its budget. For this reason, audiences flocked to theaters out of pure curiosity to see what kind of movie $500 million will make. Avatar’s 3-D and IMAX showings also helped boost box office numbers, especially the worldwide pull.

Avatar also had the backing of social media, though much of its popularity on these channels was user-generated, instead of the studio or a PR firm (though Fox used a number of social media tools to promote the film prior to its release). In summer 2009, it was rumored that Twitter users damaged box-office numbers for Bruno after users expressed disappointment with the film in its opening weekend. Avatar had the opposite effect, with users tweeting non-stop about the film’s visual effects and their overall satisfaction.

Shortly after the movie premiered, rumors of a sequel surfaced quickly. If in fact there is a sequel, will it fall victim to the sophomore slump, or surpass its predecessor in every way possible? Whether you loved it or hated it, there’s no denying that Avatar has changed the film industry for the better. It has set standards not only for box-office earnings, but for production value and visual effects as well. Though it doesn’t boast a blockbuster cast or even a happily-ever-after ending, Avatar is a movie that will be talked about for years.