BEIJING, CHINA – MARCH 14: A poster of ‘Avatar’, which is reissued in China, is seen at an Emperor Cinemas on March 14, 2021 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Tian Yuhao/China News Service via Getty Images)
Avatar earned another $6.3 million on Saturday in China, a 29% drop from last Saturday’s $9 million gross, bringing its Chinese reissue total to $39.23 million. We’re likely looking at an over/under $15 million second-weekend gross, a drop of just 28% from last weekend and the best “second weekend gross” for any Hollywood flick since Frozen II’s late-2019 release before the world turned upside down. For the record, Tenet earned $10.5 million (-65%) on weekend two from a $29.8 million debut in September of 2020 while Disney’s Soul rose to $13.8 million (+149%) from a $5.5 million opening weekend last December. It’ll pass the $41 million cume of Mulan by the end of this sentence.
So, yes, with a likely (if this all pans out) $45 million ten-day total, the James Cameron 3-D epic will surely pass The Croods: A New Age ($53 million), Soul ($57 million) and possibly Tenet ($66 million) to become the biggest Hollywood import in the Covid era. Yes, Chinese moviegoing is mostly back to normal (they closed theaters in late January of 2020 and were open and thriving by August), but audiences are flocking to home-grown blockbusters (The Eight Hundred and My People, My Homeland in 2020, Hi, Mom and Detective Chinatown 3 in 2021) over Hollywood flicks. Next week’s release of Godzilla Vs. Kong will be a huge test for the viability of Hollywood tentpoles.
Transformers Age of Extinction
This will put the lifetime total for Avatar at around $247 million. It’s now ninth among Hollywood grossers in China, right between Transformers: The Last Knight ($228 million out of $605 million worldwide in 2017) and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom ($261 million out of $1.308 billion in 2018). It may just catch up to the second Jurassic World movie and the likes of Venom ($269 million out of $854 million in 2018) but probably not Transformers: Age of Extinction ($301 million out of $1.105 billion in 2014). As you’ll notice, the fourth Transformers movie was a huge hit with or without China while the fifth Transformers movie was a whiff because it nosedived almost everywhere else except China.
Likewise, Godzilla: King of the Monsters was a global bomb ($390 million on a $185 million budget compared to $529 million worldwide for Godzilla and $569 million for Kong: Skull Island). This despite jumping 71% in China ($135 million in 2019) compared to Godzilla ($68 million in 2014), although that was still 20% below Skull Island ($168 million in 2017). To the extent that King of the Monsters got kneecapped by Avengers: Endgame ($620 million), well, there’s no such competition in China this time. Is the MonsterVerse still among the few franchises, alongside the MCU, The Fast Saga, Jurassic and presumably Mission: Impossible, that Chinese audiences care about? Can we now count Avatar as part of this rare club?
Michelle Rodriguez and Vin Diesel in Justin Lin’s ‘F9’
If so, then that’s a huge deal for Avatar 2 when the time comes (December 16, 2022 we hope). Absolutely nobody expects Avatar to pull a domestic total approximating the first film’s $760 million cume, and we don’t know how James Cameron’s “13-years-later” sequel will play overseas. Yes, I’m presuming it’ll be a “very big hit” by any rational standard. It can drop 64% globally and still top $1 billion. That the reissue is doing so well in China (partially due to audiences who never got to see it on the big screen in 2009/2010) implies that it could, emphasis on “could,” pull in grosses in China comparable to a Chinese blockbuster.
Point being, if it plays like Wandering Earth, Ne Zha or Detective Chinatown 3 and grosses $600-$700 million in China alone, that makes up for a lot of declining interest worldwide. That is, at this early juncture, almost recklessly speculative. However, Avatar is about to clear $50 million and may approach $70 million, 11 years after its initial release, in a marketplace where most Hollywood movies have crashed and burned over the last 15 months. At the very least, there’s a case to be made that the brand belongs in the increasingly rare club of Hollywood franchises which still have pull in China. And if Chinese moviegoers have ownership of it even comparable to The Fast Saga, well, the tìtsunslu are txewluke.
I’ve studied the film industry, both academically and informally, and with an emphasis in box office analysis, for nearly 30 years. I have extensively written about all