Avengers: Endgame is currently being subsumed into the new national pastime of box office watching:
Iron Man, Cap and the rest have toppled just about every record imaginable, already passing Titanic to officially become the second highest-grossing film of all time. That’s one James Cameron movie down, one more to go. Can Endgame top Avatar as well? Inquiring – and probably betting – minds want to know.
Whether this actually happens or not seems almost completely immaterial to me. Endgame has already prevailed where Avatar failed: it’s a movie built to have an actual long-lasting cultural impact. It’s also a sequel everyone wanted to see. Can you say the same about Avatar’s 75 – number picked at random because I’ve truly lost track of how many of these things Cameron intends to make – sequels?
Part of the reason for this intense interest in Endgame’s potential to top Avatar is simply because virtually everything in our culture now seems to come down to binary competitions between two giants – Trump vs. Clinton, Disney vs. Netflix, Golden State Warriors vs. the NBA, Facebook vs. Twitter, latest blockbuster movie vs. old blockbuster movie . Part of is due to the undeniable historical curiosity of it all. Another part is because Cameron badmouthed the Marvel movies in the past. Well, Ric Flair, you wanna take this one?
Thank you, Mr. Flair. Endgame just might beat Avatar in the record books and therefore become “the man,” with apologies to anyone wincing at the dude-centric nature of that term.
Financially, however, Endgame will never truly topple Avatar. As The Washington Post laid out in exhaustive detail, Avatar’s accomplishment will always ring more impressive due to the total number of tickets sold, inflation, and the stark difference between the Chinese market in 2004 versus now. Back then, there were only 5,000 movie screens in China; there 60,0000 now. So, “even if Endgame continues to rake in the coin in China, garnering as much as four times as Avatar, it still shouldn’t be equated with the Cameron blockbuster for this reason: It’s had more than 10 times the screens on which to play.”
Culturally, eh, it’s a different story. Endgame will always stand out as the absolute zenith in the comic book-ification of mainstream cinema. It will never be looked at on the charts as a single movie but instead the representation of 22 total films and 11 years of storytelling.
Avatar, on the other hand, was a 3D novelty item, a first-of-its-kind technological achievement married to an easily understood Dances With Wolves narrative with literal cigar-chomping villains and star-crossed lovers. The culture demanded we all see it mostly because no one had ever seen a movie quite like it before. It was a monumental step forward in filmmaking technology, a James Cameron specialty, but its story enacted virtually no long-lasting impact on culture. We more remember all the awful 3D movies Hollywood threw at us because of Avatar’s success than we do we whether Sigourney Weaver’s characters survives or dies in Avatar.
You can still never take away Avatar’s financial achievements, but Avatar’s record is that of a single film; Endgame’s record – should it end up #1 or #2 on the all-time chart – will be that of a glorified TV show’s series finale. The inherent disconnect between those two ideas virtually ensures Endgame will live longer in the popular memory than Avatar simply because we already invested so much time, energy, and emotion in these characters and their respective films.
Besides, if you think of Endgame as a Part 2 to Infinity War – and there are those who would argue against that viewpoint since although the two films tell the same continuous story they are two very different beasts in tone – then their combined financial easily overcomes anything else in film history.
You move, Avatar 2, 3, 4, 5…or however damn many of them Cameron has on the way.
The real winner in all of this is obvious: Disney, which now owns both the Avengers AND Avatar.
Update: And Disney just pushed back all of the Avatar sequels.