In 2019, “Avengers: End Game” finally claimed the number one worldwide box office record from “Avatar”, which had held the record for nearly a decade at that point. The James Cameron film seems to only be talked about in terms of holding box office records, with not many people saying that it left a big impact on pop culture the way that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has. So the question is, how was “Avatar” the king for so long?
One key aspect is the technical spectacle that “Avatar” was, and still is. Cameron put a long time into making the film, and kept pushing back the production because the technology wasn’t where he wanted it to be. When “Avatar” was finally released in the final weeks of 2009, nobody had seen anything like it. Even if you weren’t interested in the story, people still went to the theaters because of the special effects alone.
Many left “Avatar” saying that the story structure was almost identical to the animated film “Fern Gully”, with a bit of “Pocahontas” thrown in. Still, it didn’t matter, as it was one of those films you had to see in theaters, as television didn’t do it justice. Because of this, “Avatar” had great word of mouth, with people that hadn’t seen it after several weeks getting into IMAX screenings before it left theaters. Naturally, “Avatar” won three Oscars, all of them coming in the visual aspects.
IMAX and 3D also played a large part in the box office numbers for “Avatar”. In 2009, 3D ticket prices at the theaters were much more expensive compared to regular tickets than they are these days. Now, a 3D screening is usually just an extra $1 or $2 instead of doubling the price. Since “Avatar” was a must-see 3D experience, people were paying the premium prices that boosted the numbers.
Of course, it’s not a knock on Cameron or his film. There was a lot of care that was put into the film, and Cameron’s name alone was enough to pull in audiences. After all, this was the man responsible for films like “The Terminator”, “Titanic” and “Alien”. So while “Avatar” may no longer be the worldwide box office king, it’s definitely not the end for Cameron. Time will tell if the several planned sequels that he has planned for “Avatar” can reach the same type of success that the original did, though it’s going to be tough to leapfrog back over “Avengers: End Game” for any film in the coming years.