Why Avengers: Endgame Will Never Really Be Bigger Than Avatar

James Cameron's 3D intergalactic tale of the Na'vi and Pandora is the standard for global blockbusters.

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Why Avengers: Endgame Will Never Really Be Bigger Than Avatar

Avengers: Endgame is sure to cross $2 billion in global box office soon

Highlights
  • Avengers: Endgame is already at $1.66 billion worldwide
  • In contrast, Avatar earned a total of $2.78 billion globally
  • Startling Endgame numbers have pushed its comparison with Avatar

By now it's not a question of if but when.

As it heads into its second weekend of cinematic domination, Avengers: Endgame is sure to cross $2 billion (roughly Rs. 13,836 crores) in global box office very soon.

Coming off a record-breaking opening weekend, Marvel's superhero epic is already at $1.66 billion (roughly Rs. 11,484 crores) worldwide. And with both America (responsible for $462 million (roughly Rs. 3,196 crores) of that) and international juggernauts such as China still going strong, that pair of bills is easily attainable. It's just a matter of which day.

And not long after the film hits that threshold it will almost certainly leapfrog other blockbusters on the global earnings chart: Avengers: Infinity War ($2.05 billion or roughly Rs. 14,181 crores), Star Wars: The Force Awakens, ($2.07 billion or Rs. 14,319 crores) and Titanic ($2.19 billion or roughly Rs. 15,150 crores).

In film, though, those are only the silver medals. The big prize is Avatar. James Cameron's 3-D intergalactic tale of the Na'vi and Pandora is the standard for global blockbusters for the way it dominated theaters at the end of 2009 and the early parts of 2010. Its total is $2.78 billion (roughly Rs. 19,231 crores), a crown no blockbuster (even an MCU blockbuster) can ever seem to take.

Or can it? Since last weekend's startling Endgame numbers (including a $357 million opening in the US), pundits have begun asking the kind of question that seldom gets asked - whether the previously unobtainium is possible. As this story put it, "Can Avengers: Endgame Topple Avatar's $2.8 Billion All-Time Record?' "

The talk of the film crossing that threshold is far more intriguing - and complicated.

There are certainly pathways for it to get there. The US will be key to that effort. The movie will need a big second weekend beginning this Friday and continuing through Sunday - a solid number would be $175 million (a drop-off of 50 percent is considered difficult but not impossible for big-budget blockbusters). That would help power it to an additional $400 million in the US atop the nearly half a billion it's already grossed and get it within sniffing distance of the blue creatures.

Endgame will also need to have staying power in China, the world's second-largest theatrical market by dollars and one that's been very essential to its smashdom to date. In fact, China is responsible for $460 million of box office in its own right. (No other foreign country is close to $100 million).

But here's why even if the movie gets to $2.78 billion, it will never be bigger than Avatar.

The most obvious reason is inflation. Movie tickets cost a lot more now than they did in 2009 - a full 20 percent more in the United States alone. That means Avatar would have grossed some $150 million more here than its $760 million domestic total in today's dollars, a number that actually puts Avatar's global total near the three-billion-dollar mark.

Of course a lot of Avatar tickets came in 3-D, which cost a lot more to begin with. So the idea that Endgame isn't matching Avatar's popularity because movie tickets cost more in 2019 isn't exactly accurate.

But here's why it really shouldn't be considered a bigger hit. If you play on fewer screens, you'll take in less money. And Avatar was playing on fewer screens than Endgame. A lot fewer screens.

And the biggest country in which that was the case? China.

Yes, the Middle Kingdom has been responsible for $460 million of Endgame box office so far, more than double the $204 million Avatar took in there. But the Marvel movie has a major advantage in China that Avatar didn't have when it came out - the country has been blanketed with movie theaters in the past decade. In fact, there are entire towns and cities that couldn't play the Cameron-fest but can now play Endgame.

Back then, the country as a whole had just under 5,000 screens. Wanna guess how many it has now?

No, it's higher than that.

Nope. Still higher.

There are now as estimated 60,000 movie screens in China. (The US has 41,000.)

This makes for an astonishing figure - for Avatar. That movie managed to take in nearly half as much as Endgame in China despite theater capacity that wasn't even a 10th of what it is now.

Even if Endgame continues to rake in the coin in China, garnering as much as three times as Avatar, it still shouldn't be equated with the Cameron blockbuster for this reason: It's had more than 10 times the screens on which to play.

(Incidentally, this is also true, to a lesser degree, in the United States. Avatar was on at most 3,460 screens, 30 percent fewer than the 4,660 screens Endgame has been on.)

So yes, even if Endgame surpasses the $2.78 billion mark with a colossal, massive and generally adjective-defying global performance, it will, as far as movie-popularity rankings are concerned, always be No. 2.

Of course that hasn't stopped some pundits from preparing for a global showdown involving the MCU movie. If it does cross that number, some have asked whether "Endgame" can be dethroned for another reason.

As this pundit put it, "Is Avatar 2 The Film To Break Avengers Endgame's Box Office Record?"

© The Washington Post 2019

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