Is Avatar Box Office Success Exaggerated?

As Avatar continues its march up the all-time box office charts, the chorus of critics of Cameron’s sci-fi epic seem increasingly anxious to minimize its achievements.  This is no surprise.  After all,  the film sits out there as a giant target to take shots at. In the realm of “ways to minimize Avatar’s achievement” is a storyline that is starting to surface which argues that the Box Office numbers are inflated because of the 3d ticket surcharges which give Avatar an unfair advantage over the films it is being compared to.  Jack Mathews at MovieFone sums it up well:

— There are people, like myself, who have pointed out that ‘Avatar’s’ supernova box office numbers are skewed by hefty surcharges on tickets to its 3D and IMAX showings, of which most are. If people were paying the same for a ticket to ‘Avatar’ that they pay to most first-run movies, its current domestic rank would be in the 30s instead of No. 5, where it is now (so, closer to films like ‘The Sixth Sense’ and ‘The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ than ‘Titanic’).

My own thought is that the argument seems to be a bit flawed in that it’s based on what seems to be  the assumption that the audience will just sort of automatically pony up the extra money for 3D.  Is that in fact a reasonable assumption?  Wasn’t it just as likely that, if the film came out and didn’t reach “major event – must see” proportions, and instead fell short in terms of Box Office Gross,  then Cameron would be blamed for overreaching and these same folks be saying “Told you so, Cameron’s huge 3D gamble failed to pay off; audiences in a recession not willing to pay the extra money for 3D; format now in question.”

I think the fact is that  Cameron took a huge gamble that might well not have paid off in a time of recession unless except for the fact that he confounded his critics by actually creating something which general audiences around the world clearly perceive as breathtakingly appealing and hence worth the higher ticket prices.  There was no guarantee there would be this reaction. Relying on 3D and 3d Imax with higher ticket prices was a gamble that might well have not paid off.  But it did.

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