Avatar Nears 'Titanic' Record, Wins and Loses in China


James Cameron's "Avatar," from 20th Century Fox , is on its way to beat "Titanic" and become the biggest movie at the box office ever. Over the three day weekend "Avatar" won nearly $55 million at the box office in the U.S. and Canada and another $129 million from overseas, putting its total at $1.12 billion international and half a billion in the US. The current record, Titanic's $1.24 billion global take, is well within reach.

The movie's now been in theaters for over a month, and it continues to draw huge numbers, despite the fact that most films would draw just a trickle of moviegoers so long after their launch. It's a testament to the positive word-of-mouth for the film and the gee-whiz 3-D technology. Avatar's run will continue to be supported by its Golden Globes wins, including best director and best motion picture, drama, this past weekend.

It's worth noting that the "Avatar" and "Titanic" numbers are not adjusted for inflation, or from the fact that most people are paying a premium (by some estimates as much as $3 per ticket) to see "Avatar" in 3-D. The average ticket price is around $7.50, and more for 3-D, up from about $4.80 back in 1998 when Titanic packed theaters. So when "Avatar" eventually surpasses Titanic's record, fewer people will have seen it than saw Titanic. But instead of bemoaning that disparity and the confusion about box office numbers, I think that's a sign that Avatar's box office numbers have a was to go.

It's no surprise that Avatar's 'respect nature, why can't we all get along' message is resonating internationally. And while the dialog may be criticized as too simple, it's easy to translate, subtitle and understand. In fact "Avatar" is now the most successful movie of all time in China. It's a testament to the value of the communal movie-going experience and how different the 3-D experience is that Chinese consumers would shell out the yen for tickets when piracy is so rampant. 900 3-D Chinese screens account for $49 million of China's $76 million in ticket sales.

But China's Flm Goup won't let "Avatar" have a full run. The government-run movie distributor is starting to pull the movie off over 1500 2-D screens in China. Instead it'll start to run a biography of Confucius. Hollywood studios have long battled with Chinese restrictions on the number of foreign films that can play in theaters. This kind of dramatic move to pull the most successful movie in the country to date, speaks to the degree that China is threatened, and the challenge Hollywood faces. While Google battles with the Chinese government over independence, it's not the only company that would benefit from an open market.