Monday December 28, 2009


Go to the movies this weekend? Lots of people did. Before the weekend was even half over the numbers crunchers were celebrating an all-time record (unadjusted) of $278 million, beating the weekend “The Dark Knight” opened in July 2008.

But that's not the big news to me. The big news is that “Avatar” won the weekend with a $75 million haul. If that number holds, 1) it's the second-biggest second weekend ever, after “Dark Knight”'s $75.16 million*, and, 2) that -2.6% drop from the first weekend is the 10th lowest drop between first and second weekends for a film opening in 3,000 or more theaters. And the top nine on that list? None came close to “Avatar”'s $77 million first weekend. None even came close to a $50 million opening weekend. They're mostly cartoons/family films (“Cheaper By the Dozen 2,” “Bolt”) that opened poorly or so-so before the holidays, then caught on during the holidays. You might say the same for “Avatar” except that it didn't open poorly or so-so. It opened phenomenally.

And continues phenomenally. After 10 days, Cameron's movie has made $212 million in the U.S. (7th-best for the year) and $402 million abroad, for a worldwide total of $615 million, or 47th best all-time (unadjusted). No. 2 on the worldwide list is “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” at 1.1 billion. Can “Avatar” surpass that mark? If it can, Cameron will be the writer-director of the two highest-grossing films of all time. Talk about your kings of the world. Here's hoping it keeps going and wipes the stink of “Transformers 2” off the year.

More on “Avatar”:

  • The Minneapolis Star-Tribune's critic Colin Covert has a fun, Freudian take on “Avatar.” Jake's movement from re-birth to manhood is definitely a big part of the movie—it's a hero myth, after all—but Covert's vision of Col, Quaritch as an Oedipal father in need of a major adjustment adds a fun new element for me. “Quaritch is an iconic Bad Dad,” Covert writes. “He threatens to shoot Grace in the mining camp’s control room, and later physically attacks her, Trudy and Neytiri in separate incidents. Mom and dad fight a lot.”
  • BTW: “Avatar”'s success, following on the heels of “The Blind Side,” means that two of the three biggest movies this fall feature strong women who nurture young men away from the influence of bad men and turn them into good men. A theme?
  • Michael B. Laskoff has a pro-capitalistic take on both “Up” and “Avatar,” but to me it's a misreading. A rather gross misreading. Carl's house in “Up” is more about the burden of dreams, or the past, than a Wordworthian getting-and-spending. And arguing that “Avatar” is pro-capitalist because Cameron invented something wonderful and new, and thus, in Laskoff's words, “has done exactly what the high priests of capitalism—from Adam Smith and Alexander Hamilton to Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan—have always preached: allow daring, vision and capital to find one other and the extraordinary can emerge,” is not only ignoring what “Avatar” is (a not-so-subtle critique of the military-industrial complex), but what capitalism is. Yes, you want daring and vision. But capital rarely finds the two. Capital is too busy chasing after what has worked before. It wants to endlessly copy the successful. There's little daring in it.

Balance sheets over blood: one of the many pro-capitalist
messages Michael Laskoff sees in “Avatar”

  • Finally, a cool look, from Devin Faraci of, on how Cameron's final film differs from Cameron's original script treatment. Among the changes (SPOILERS): Jake is named Josh; Josh cries when he first walks as an avatar; the planet is always fighting the humans as if they're a virus—it doesn't just happen at the end; and there is no unobtanium. We're just messing with the Na'vi to keep them in line. It's interesting stuff, but, unlike Faraci, I agree with most of the changes Cameron eventually made. He brought a big ship in lean and tight.

* UPDATE: “Avatar” wound up grossing $75.6 million over the weekend—meaning it had the best second-weekend ever (unadjusted). It also did better abroad than the numbers originally indicated: its worldwide total now stands at $623.6 million.

Posted at 07:10 AM on Monday December 28, 2009 in category Movies - Box Office  
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