“Avatar” continued to dominate at the box office this weekend, taking the top spot for the fourth weekend in a row with nearly $50 million in ticket sales. Most parties in the industry agree that even if James Cameron’s sci-fi epic doesn’t knock out the records held by “Titanic” for top-grossing domestic release and top-grossing worldwide release, it will settle in comfortably in second place.
The film industry is a constant game of one-upsmanship, with box-office numbers measured each week against each other and then considered as part of the bigger picture. It’s rare, though, that we see a film on the scale of “Avatar,” something so big that every moviegoing individual on the planet stops to pay attention. Here’s the question we now face: What could possibly unseat Cameron’s titans from their record-setting perches?
It takes, as Exhibitor Relations box-office analyst Jeff Bock put it in a recent interview, a “perfect storm of events,” which he thinks “starts with that prime release date where you don’t have a lot of competition.” He went on to make the point that the two Cameron films were released in the fall, during a time where competition tends to be at a minimum as compared to the blockbuster-heavy summer season.
“Look at the top 20 films of all time … and you see ultimate hero, ultimate stakes. If you want to make a film that makes a billion dollars, that’s what you have to do,” Bock said, referencing a list that includes a diverse array of titles: “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “The Lord of the Rings,” “Harry Potter” and “Star Wars” are just a few of the franchises represented.
“All of these films, the one thing they have in common — it’s obviously the saga of mythic proportions. This is something that has always been perpetuated in screenwriting, you follow this mythic structure of hero. These are the films that, by and large in Hollywood, will make the most money,” Bock explained. “It’s a tale as old as time; it’s mythic conquest.”
A big component in capturing the scale of that sort of tale requires wrapping a believable environment around it. Look at last weekend’s “Daybreakers,” a surprisingly solid sci-fi vampire flick for a January release. Stars Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill all pull their weight of course, but what really sells the movie is the vampire-run society that serves as a backdrop for the story. “Daybreakers” obviously isn’t headed for “Avatar” numbers, but it’s a rare January release — typically a fallow time for Hollywood — that succeeds because of how it is served.
“These films, they can create their own world,” Bock said. “They create their own world in which the characters can play and that’s what you have to do if you’re going to have your film reach $750 million-plus worldwide. It’s a no-brainer.”
Check out everything we’ve got on “Avatar.”
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