Making Sense of 'Avatar's Weak Return

"Avatar" is the biggest movie of all time — grossing $2.744 billion after its December debut. Producer-director-writer James Cameron says if there were more 3-D screens, the movie would have been even bigger, which is why 20th Century Fox re-released a special cut of the film only in 3-D. The movie only finished in 12th place this weekend, with $4 million from 812 locations.


How does this compare? When Warner Brothers re-released "Dark Knight" in January 2009 it grossed $2,000 a screen. "Avatar's" re-release this weekend grossed $5,000 a screen. The difference is that this weekend's film is a new, different, 8.5 minute longer version. So Fox had to spend some serious dough to finish the special effects on the additional minutes, mix the movie, and make new prints. Industry insiders tell me that the studio was hoping for closer to $10 million from this past weekend.

Here's a comparison: When Fox re-released "Star Wars" in January 1997, ahead of the new "Star Wars" triliogy, it grossed $138 million, $36 million of that opening weekend. Sure, these are apples and oranges — the original Star Wars was 20 years earlier, in 1977, while "Avatar" gave viewers just a nine month break.

But "Avatar's" re-release may be more valuable than it looks based on its 12th place showing this weekend — it could be a key tool in driving Blu-Ray disc sales. Putting a film in theaters makes people aware of it, which counter-intuitively, may make the DVD more appealing. As studios squeeze the window between theatrical and DVD release, that time in theaters is increasingly important to market DVDs. This past weekend's opening isn't bad consideirng the fact that the movie's been out on DVD for months. Now we'll have to see if the re-release sends DVD sales spiking higher.

Questions? Comments?