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Rerelease redux: Was the opening of the 'Avatar' special edition a disappointment?

August 31, 2010 |  4:42 pm

No sooner did we write that the release of the special edition of "Avatar" this past weekend was a disappointment than we received a slew of comments and e-mails asking why we thought it a failure (politely, of course).

So let's take a closer look.

The movie grossed about $4 million on 812 screens here in the U.S. Several readers pointed out that the per-screen number this averages out to -- just about $5,000 -- was among the strongest of the weekend. And that number is indeed not terrible for a new opener -- except for the fact that "Avatar" wasn't a new opener; it had the benefit of eight months of marketing and buzz behind it. This is hardly some unknown character drama that has to fight for every ticket.

Throw in the fact that the film had the benefit of premium ticket prices, and was going up against some pretty weak competition, and $5,000 doesn't look quite so solid. If you're scribbling on the back of an envelope -- assuming conservatively about a dozen shows per screen over the three days and $15 for a premium 3-D ticket -- that's an average of about 28 people at each showing. If you saw that many people in a theater you were in, you'd think that was OK, but wonder if the film is getting much beyond the hard-core or the really late adopters.

In the per-screen pecking order, the "Avatar" re-release was better than the second weekend of "The Switch" and "Lottery Ticket," but not as good as the first weekend of "Takers" and "The Last Exorcism." Which is ... Fine? Mediocre? Not an overwhelming success?

Others pointed out that this was a weak time to release a big movie, so you have to take the numbers in context. Well, it was Fox's decision to release it this past weekend, and clearly they thought it would be a propitious time for the film. And they had reason to. In fact, outside of "The Expendables," the new "Avatar"  had the benefit of being the only action spectacle playing in any kind of wide release this past weekend. Clog the weekend up with a few more wide releases and it's likely the movie's numbers dip.

None of this is really a knock on the new "Avatar." It was a tall order to come on the heels of a DVD release and assume a few minutes of extra footage would restart the phenomenon. And much of this is found money for Fox. So it's not even the worst gambit in the world. It's just not exactly a major event either.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "Avatar": Credit: 20th Century Fox

Comments () | Archives (5)

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The opinion of this re-release doing poorly is relative. $4 mil plus the other estimated $4 mil outside the US this past weekend puts the earnings around $8 million total. This movie grossed $2.7 billion and that makes those weekend numbers sound puny, but in actuality they are decent to say the least. Especially since the DVD has been out for awhile now. If the 'Hurt Locker' was re-released and made those earnings opening weekend, people would call it a triumph, simply because of its poor take on its first release. Relativity.

This release also coincides with back to school/college too. That has to hurt its potential in some form. Fox hasn't been pushing this film to the mainstream the entire 8 months that you mentioned, more like 1 month, and even that marketing was short-breathed. Granted people like you and I who follow this industry knew about the little re-release plans back in March, but odds are, we are a rarity. Limited releases hurt word-of-mouth too. My local theater didn't pick it up, so I had to drive 40 miles to see it and when I told my friends what I thought about it afterwards, they admitted they wanted to see it, but were not willing to drive that far for it.

Cameron said they spent $1 million per minute to finish the 8 minutes of scenes so now they are breaking even...excluding distribution costs, which can't be too much considering they limited it to digital 3D theaters. All revenue from here on out is pure profit for Fox with more international countries coming on board as the release dates go by for the next month. In my opinion, poor timing yes, a failure, no. I think the way Fox looks at it is they have nothing to lose. The interest from the first gross alone would cover any loses this could have incurred.

You might also factor in that we've already seen it 3 times and bought the DVD... so how many people wanted to go back and see it again? I think *any* money this film made on rerelease is amazing.

Fair play. Your point that the re-release is only pulling the hardcore and the 1st time missers-out is factual, yes, but also not a bad reflection on the idea of this re-release, because it was aimed at exactly those people. Based on interviews I've been reading with James Cameron, he lately hasn't been expecting the re-release to make tons of money, it's mostly just a response to an enthusiastic fan-base that wanted to see it again with some new stuff. Also, I know a number of people who saw it on DVD and realized what they missed, and have been out to the theater to see it. They had no idea it was coming though; I had to tell them. On Friday I went with a group of people who like or loved the film, not necessarily hardcore fans, and one guy who hadn't seen it. The theater was a little less than half full of people of all ages who seemed to fit into one of those categories.

The topic of the marketing and/or anticipation for this re-release is also an interesting one. I must agree with the other commenter that had I not been following the insider buzz closely, I would have had no clue about the re-release. Even up to the day of the re-release, I was talking to friends, people who liked or loved the movie--even a true fan or two--who had no idea that there was going to be a re-release. A common response I got was, "What? That's still in theaters?"

"No, re-release."

"Oh, they're doing a re-release? I had no idea."

You get the point. Mention of the idea of a re-release was made as far back as March, all was quiet until sometime in May when they confirmed that there would be one eventually; even then they didn't get very loud about it: you would need to have been checking google news every week to have caught that. Finally, just a month ago, they released the TV spot, which I happened upon again only because I was regularly checking for updates on the re-release, and not much besides that. The simplest way I can put it: I don't personally know anyone who heard about the re-release from some source other than me.

If audiences in general had to choose between Avatar (regular OR 3D) versus The Dark Knight, does anyone really think that Cameron's film would come out on top? I'd gladly pay to see TDK in an IMAX theatre once a year for the next decade at least over seeing Avatar even a second time! Too much gimmickry doesn't beat a whole lot of substance in my book.

What also needs to be considered is that Avatar's first release domestically represented only 27% of the movie's entire gross. If that percentage holds up or is even close, the numbers could be quite impressive once they report the totals from the rest of the world.


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