How do you make a successful movie? The question is deceptively simple. The obvious answer would be: “Make a good movie!”, but that isn’t necessarily correct. There have been many “good” movies that have flopped, and there have been “bad” movies that have made millions. The true answer to the question I asked would take many articles to answer. Good thing this column was created to do just that.
This month, considering this is the first month of this column, I want to start with the biggest hit in history. No, not Gone With the Wind (which is a much better movie than the one centered in this article), I of course mean Avatar. I am fairly sure that anyone reading this article has seen Avatar; with that in mind, the article may or may not have spoilers. With that out of the way, let’s take a look at why Avatar raked in so much money.
Reel Hit: Avatar
by Andy Potter
Avatar. That name alone invokes a singular picture in my mind: dollar signs. Avatar was not only James Cameron’s biggest hit, but it was also the biggest hit ever (not an opinion). How did Avatar become the legendary blockbuster we know it as? Well, let’s find out.
Timing, the time at which a movie starts playing in theaters, is crucial when releasing a movie. The Green Hornet is a perfect example of this. If it was released during the summer, I am sure it would have made a much larger box office impact, but because it was released in the dead of winter, it was not so readily accepted. Avatar was released during the Christmas season of 2009. Out during that time period were other Oscar nominees Crazy Heart and Up in the Air. When looking at the competition alone, it would appear that the profits would be split among the three large movies out at the time.
Obviously, we know that didn’t happen. The reason for this becomes clear when you realize the target demographic of all three movies. Crazy Heart and Up in the Air were movies targeted at older moviegoers; Avatar, on the other hand, was targeting everyone. During the Christmas season, it is common for families to go see movies together, and when looking at the movies out at the time, it becomes clear which one will keep your kids quiet the longest (162 minutes to be exact). This kept Avatar ahead during the Christmas season and during the following weeks, but it wasn’t the timing that kept the money flowing in almost three months after release.
Avatar, more than any other movie of 2009, was a blast to watch. Yeah the story was an amalgam of fifty other stories, but that didn’t make the special effects any less cool. Just to give you an idea of my moviegoing habits, if I see a movie in theaters, even a good one, I will not see it again until I run into it on demand or playing on a random station. With that said, I saw Avatar twice in theaters, on two consecutive days. I just couldn’t get enough of the crazy special effects, and by looking at the box office, I think that’s what the whole world felt like. It was a fun ride while it lasted, which leads into my next point…
More so than any other movie before or after it, Avatar was a movie you needed to watch in the theater, in IMAX 3D. When the special effects are that good, they deserved to be seen on the best quality screen. The special effects were so good, in fact, that audiences kept coming back just because Avatar was never going to be back in theaters again (except when it was rereleased). Avatar had single-handedly saved the 3D movie business, and it had made it something so much more. The 3D wasn’t a cheap tag on or an annoyance; instead the 3D immersed the viewer into the world of Pandora unlike any movie before it.
Now that we are getting close to the end of this article, I think it would be pertinent to say this: I don’t like Avatar. It was a great experience that I would love to have again, but it wasn’t a good movie. The worst part, in my opinion, is that James Cameron stole ideas from numerous other works and threw them into Avatar, completely ignoring copyright infringement. Ironically, because the story was a carbon copy of Dances with Wolves, the movie was more fun. Audiences didn’t have to worry about following a story; instead they focused on the CGI.
Avatar is a strange beast. If I could watch it again in IMAX 3D I would, otherwise I can live with not watching it again. I could write an entire article on which ideas Cameron stole from other sources, but that would be a waste of energy. Avatar was never meant to have an epic story, although audiences were promised that. Avatar was just a vehicle for eye-popping special effects, a vehicle that made almost three billion dollars.