...and make way for James Cameron!
As of Tuesday, Avatar has become the highest-grossing film of all-time, raking in a domestic total of $601.1 million (and counting). That is enough to nudge it past the 12-year reigning box-office champion, Titanic, which now sits in second place -- something that seemed unthinkable even as Avatar opened just over a month ago -- with $600.7 million. Yikes. The unthinkable has happened.
Also unthinkable is that Avatar already became the highest grossing film worldwide (once again passing Titanic), and over the past week became the first film to reach $2 billion in worldwide grosses.
I have covered all the reasons why I think Avatar was able to pull off such a feat, and I have also gone over the different caveats any box-office observer -- casual or professional -- must take into account when discussing the all-time grossers (inflation, 3-D up-charges, etc.). But no matter what asterisks you place beside the title, Avatar is now the all-time highest grossing film, both domestic and worldwide. And that is a momentous achievement. It is big news in this business.
It is also significant that the top highest grossers of all-time, the two films that will be almost impossible to beat for years and years, are both made by James Cameron. Not Spielberg. Not George Lucas. Not any other well-loved blockbuster director. James Cameron. It is both a credit to his brain as both a technological innovator and as a screenwriter, because he has now tapped directly into the brains of the modern filmgoer twice in the last 12 years, and has kept them coming to the theaters again and again. Extraordinary.
Right now, with the Oscar nominations likely giving the film a bump that will last it another month or so, the sky is the limit for the film. $700 million seems like a certainty...$800 million seems possible. Maybe more...who knows. We will get a better idea in the next couple weeks, as higher profile films are released and Avatar will have to continue defending the number one spot for the weekend. But for future projections, I think we can assume that Avatar will hold onto the all-time top spot for just about as long as Titanic did. Even the eventual Avatar sequel will have a difficult time rising above the original. Ideas like Titanic and Avatar become cultural phenomnenons because of their uniqueness as film experiences. Sequels aren't likely to rise to the top spot of all-time. They can get close -- like The Dark Knight or Shrek 2 -- but the highest all-time grosser is reserved, I think, for original films. Highest first weekend grosses are sequel territory, but all-time highest? It will always be an original film.
The next plateau? Well, obviously $1 billion domestic is the next huge mark, and it will be hit eventually...someday. At this point it seems like a very steep climb for Avatar, but never underestimate a Cameron invention. I would predict $800+ million for Avatar, and that the record will stand for around a decade...and then the next huge thing will crack $1 billion domestic, which will be the next amazing box office feat of our time.
For now, no matter what our personal feelings on the matter, we should step back, take a deep breath, and remember the moment when the ship was finally sunk. It feels wrong, in a way. And there is plenty of asterisks to discuss. But nonetheless...this is one of those moments. One of THE moments. Take it in.