Any Doubt Avatar Will Surpass Titanic Now?

Last week as the week was rolling along, I got the feeling that people were not putting Avatar’s Box Office performance into perspective — that people weren’t studying the trend lines which showed it has a very different trajectory than a ‘typical’ 75m opening weekend film would have.  So … dipping my toes into the water of predictology, I went out on a limb and made what a lot of people on some of the box office discussion boards flamingly said was an ‘outrageous’ prediction.  My prediction was that Avatar would surpass Titanic and might even reach the unheard of level of $1B US Box Office Gross. (I gave it a 50/50 chance to make it there.)   I got seriously flamed from a lot of different directions. A sampling:

  • “1 billion domestic is insane.  I don’t think it has a chance in hell of beating Titanic even, but box office trends are so freakin’ hard to predict anyway. Always see people make these ‘educated guesses’ on this board that end up being so unbelievably wrong.”
  • “Its absurd. There aren’t nearly enough data points to make such a statement. Titanic made more its 11th week than its first week. NOTHING trends like that.”
  • “This movie will not make more than Titanic.”
  • “Statistics do not suggest that this movie will perform like Titanic. They just don’t. It needs another 385M to get there and there have only been a handful of movies that have ever garnered that much.”
  • “it is WAY to early in the cycle to pretend that we can extrapolate data for the next 3 months. I have no idea where this thing is going to settle but I see no reason to think it will hit 1B, or even 600M.”
  • “It’s insane that Titanic consistently pulled in 20+ million for weeks and weeks.  I think Avatar has the legs to beat week 3, and maybe even 4. After that it will probably drop hard.”

Of course it’s still entirely possible that the naysayers are right and I’m wrong — but now that figures for this past weekend are in and — most importantly — figures for  its second Monday, yesterday,  are in, well — I’m not getting flamed quite as much on the boards.  And I want to be clear that my predictions have nothing to do with whether or not I like Avatar — they have everything to do with just studying the numbers and the trend lines and you don’t have to go further than Box Office Mojo to be able to figure it out.   Right from that first Monday when Avatar did $16m, it’s been trending much more like Titanic than any of the other heavyweights — and it’s trending that was in spite of the fact that it’s starting point was much, much higher than Titanics (77m vs 28m).  In other words, Avatar put the bar up at $77m, and then it has kept it up there rather than see it come down steadily like the ‘normal’ blockbuster which starts high and decays rapidly according to a fairly predictable curve.

Consider:

  • Avatar is at $235m after 11 days and Titanic was at $93M after 11 days.  And they were released on almost the same date — Dec 19 for Titanic and Dec 18 for Avatar — so seasonality is the same.  So measured day to day — Avatar starts out with a huge lead and it’s holding that lead every day, it’s not diminishing yet.  (see chart at the bottom of this post.)
  • Avatar’s second Monday is substantially bigger than its first Monday — something Titanic accomplished but which virtually no other heavyweight event picture has done.  E.G. #2 All Time Dark Knight dropped from 24m on its first Monday to 10m the second Monday.  Similar dropoffs happened for all blockbusters–even Return of the King dropped from $13M its first Monday, to $10m its second Monday.  Only exceptions are those which caught a Monday holiday on their second Monday.
  • Avatar’s second full week will be bigger than it’s first full week — something that sounds a lot more like Titanic than any of the ‘usual blockbusters’.  It did $141 its first full week and is trending toward $150m for its second week with three days to go and the weekday pattern established with a $19m Monday.    Compare that to the typical pattern shown by #2 All Timer Dark Knight — $238m week $112m week two.  Or I Am Legend, the top previous December opener — $103m week 1, $64m week 2.
  • It’s basically tied with I Am Legend for the best Dec opening weekend at $77m then dropped to $33m in its second weekend, but Avatar $77m, then only dropped to $75.6m its second week. Avatar has made it to $235m in 11 days and is going incredibly strong; I Am Legend finished its entire theatrical run at $256m.  Avatar’s first two Mondays were 16m and 19m; I am Legend was 7m and 4m on its first two Mondays.
  • Avatar is clearly getting heavy repeat viewings like Titanic and anyone who doubts that isn’t reading what’s out there on the discussion boards and IMDB user comments and such.
  • IMAX mgmt put out a press release saying they’re basically at full capacity and can’t keep up with demand so that piece isn’t going to go away anytime soon.
  • User ratings for Avatar are higher than Titanic at IMDB (8.8 vs 7.3), Box Office Mojo (85% A, 7% B, 2% C for Avatar vs 46% A, 31% B, 11% C for Titanic) and pretty much every other place that has user ratings.  Which means it will havecrazy legs.
  • It is a game-changing spectacle which everyone — critics, fans, everyone —  is saying must be seen in a theater, preferably IMAX, in 3D.  All the more reason it won’t die anytime soon.

So IMHO it’s no longer a question any more of — will Avatar catch Titanic?  The question is when, and how far past $600m will it go.   After 11 days of release in the same exact season, Avatar is at  $235m Avatar to Titanic’s $93m after 11 days.  Sure, we all know Titanic had amazing legs—but Avatar has already shown it’s going to have amazing legs, maybe not as long as Titanic’s — but it doesn’t have to last that long because it’s pulling in money at a much faster rate than Titanic did.     Avatar has built up what you could call a huge early lead — and it seems to be displaying most if not all of the “staying power”  trend lines that Titanic displayed.  It certainly is not trending like everything else that opened anywhere near this big including I Am Legend (Best Dec Opening) , Dark Knight, Spiderman 1 and 2,  LOTR (all 3).  They all had dropoffs of 30-40%-50% from weekend 1 to weekend 2.

Anyway — here’s a graph comparing the first 11 days of Avatar to Titanic and #2 All Time BOG winner The Dark Knight.  It says a lot.  It shows, among other things, that so far Avatar is only adding to its lead over Titanic each day.  And it also shows that as of Day 11, Avatar (which started with basically half as big an opening as The Dark Knight had) has, as of the second weekend,  begun winning the daily battle.

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