Prediction: Avatar Will Overtake Titanic as the #1 Box Office Hit In History

Weekend Box Office figures are in and Avatar only dropped off 3% which means Cameron’s film has phenomenal word of mouth as well as the ability to draw viewers back for second and third viewings.  Considering that the average dropoff for a blockbuster is around 40%, this bodes extremely well for the longterm prospects and in fact it’s now possible to start trying to figure out just where Avatar will end up.  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I believe, based on analysis of the first 10 days and first two weekends,that Avatar will not only exceed Titanic’s record of $600,000,000 — I believe it will be the first film to generate domestic Box Office Gross of $1 Billion.

Here’s why.  The following chart looks at the first 10 daily grosses for Avatar side by side with the first 10 daily grosses for Titanic and Dark Knight, the #2 all time hit with $533M.

If Avatar were trending the way a typical mega-blockbuster trends, it’s $215,000 would probably represent at least 50% of its eventual total — which would mean a final domestic BOG somewhere around $450,000,000 — top 10, but not number 1.  However it’s not trending that way — it’s trending much more like Titanic whose first 10 days only represented 15% of its final total.  Take a moment and let that sink in — because if Avatar eventually trended exactly like Titanic that would mean that its $215,000,000 to date would result in a final US Box Office Gross of a whopping $1.4 Billion.  Let’s say it doesn’t have quite the staying power of Titanic — for example, let’s split the difference between the Dark Knight, which had earned 59% of its total by this point, and Titanic, which had earned 15% — and say that Avatar’s $215 M represents 35% of its total. Avatar still gets to $615,000,000 and bests Titanic for the #1 spot.  Consider all the possible scenarios listed below:

Another thing to look at is the first two weekends and compare that to both Titanic and Dark Knight.

Note that the official estimates as of Sunday morning were that Avatar would end up at $75,000,000 but I’m pretty sure it will exceed estimates when the final numbers come in, just as it did last weekend when it was initially reported to have earned $73M, then upgraded to $77M when final numbers came in.  So — worst case — Avatar dropped 3% and Titanic grew 26% in its second weekend.  But look at Dark Knight — off almost half in its second frame, much more in line with industry norms. So although Avatar is not quite keeping pace with Titanic’s weekend to weekend trend — it is way ahead of Dark Knight and other recent mega blockbusters such as Pirates of the Carribbean: Dead Man’s Chest which opened at $135M for its first weekend, then dropped 54% to $62m in its second weekend en route to a total of $423m.

Anyway — my final word on this is that Avatar is almost 100% certain to surpass Titanic, and I’d give it at least a 50-50 chance of making it to $1B in domestic box office.

~ by Michael Sellers on December 27, 2009.

7 Responses to “Prediction: Avatar Will Overtake Titanic as the #1 Box Office Hit In History”

  1. well, it wont make 1 billion domestic, but i do agree that with things like word of mouth the fact that there is repeat business, but especially because of the price of 3d, i could easily see this movie making 600 million. there are really no blockbusters for the next few months and all of the new movies look terrible. avatar will have legs and its already at about 800 billion domestic. my final numbers are 610 million domestic, 1.4 billion worldwide. though it could beat titanic world wide if it gets alot of nominations and it will definitly beat it if it wins alot of those awards. i hope it does, it deserves to and its pretty obvious that james cameron is getting ready to make 2 sequels very soon. i cant even imagine how big those movies will be. those will without one doubt in my mind pass the titanic record. i hope it goes far, ive never seen anything like avatar, and it deserves all the money it can get.

    • You make one point which I would like to underscore — the lineup for January looks like a bunch of turkeys and that is going to help keep Avatar going strong. I think the Avatar phenomenon would have been strong enough to keep it going even if there were some better films, but this will make it easier. Beyond that, I think the next really intriguing box office day is Monday, Jan 4. Even Titanic had a big drop on the first Monday after New Years — it went from $8m on Sunday to $3m on Monday. Avatar will probably be around $20m on Sunday — what will it do on Monday?IF it somehow stays in double digits — $10m or more — that would be amazing.

      • Mike, Avatar may be doing better than even your tracking indicates. If you look at number of screens and $ per screen then Avatar is unprecedented. Titanic opened at under 3000 screens and stayed there for several months before expanding. Avatar opened at app 1000 more screens than Titanic.
        Titanic stayed steadily at around $10K per screen for 9 weeks before it began to drop off.
        As amazing as that number is, Avatar has been over $20K for three weeks now.
        If that keeps up then your prediction comes true.
        There is an advantage for Avatar of course, extra costly tickets for 3D and more cost per regular ticket.
        Do you forsee a ‘Babe Ruth/Hank Aaron’ sort of asterix for Avatar if it breaks the overall record?

  2. True enough. Fast and slow are always relatively terms. Faster than what? Yes, if you choose to compare the Avatar start to the fastest starts then, sure, it’s not so fast. Myself, I chose to look at it against a larger field where it is therefore among the fastest of fast starts.

    I’m more cautious than you but I have no deeper insight or information. It just seems to me that a large number of new releases are going to have to under perform for Avatar to hit the record. So far, you are on the money. The real test will be in mid-January thru early February. I really don’t have a feel for how well “The Book of Eli,” for example, will be received.

    Good luck. I hope that you are right. Cameron and the film deserve the best.

    • Thanks. By the way — it being the holidays and having time on my hands (not really but relatively speaking), I just made a new site called “Titanic vs Avatar” and it’s at Going to be tracking them on a day by day basis — see if my predicitons come true. Maybe I’ll end up eating crow — if so, I’ll just have to man up and take it. By the way — although I’m basing all of my assessment on objective numbers (including the user ratings at IMDB and Box Office Mojo, which are both off the charts for Avatar and substantially higher than they were for Titanic) — I guess there is one other aspect of this and that is that I think Avatar will hold up against the December and Feb competition precisely because it is such an overwhelming “cinematic” film — on that has to be experienced in theaters and can be enjoyed multiple times. I think Titanic had a lot of that going on as well — watching the film really took the viewer into another world, the “Golden Age” of the industrialists. But however powerful that was — Avatar’s “trip” is more powerful and I think that will keep people wanting to go see it in theaters. That said — competition is coming and it won’t be easy.

  3. Interesting and well thought out analysis.
    That said, it’s dangerous to do a side by side comparisons of a single piece of data, in this case raw numbers. I think that you have to take in other factors such as market saturation and strength of the new competition. There is a point, whether you get there quick or fast, where everyone that is going to see it has seen it. Titanic started “slow” and then picked up. Avatar seems to have started “fast” and the question is how long does it hang on. To get to the record breaking numbers that you predict it will have to be a major box office contender for months. This will be hard as the newer films come out. An unexpectedly large result for a newer film will cut into Avatars numbers.
    It is certainly possible, and your prediction may turn out to be accurate, but to do so it will have to defy, not follow, past trends.
    Still, thank you again for the analysis. It put several things into perspective for me.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful commentary. I agree that all the factors you cite will have a role in determining the final outcome, and it’s never a sure thing. The one thing I don’t agree with is your assertion that Titanic started slow and Avatar started “fast”. When Avatar first came out a 77m, although that’s a great start for December (tied I Am Legend for all-time number 1 December release), it was not thought of as a “fast start” in comparison to all the blockbusters which have started out at $100m or more — most recently New Moon, but also all the other mega-blockbusters from The Dark Knight (#2 all time) to Spider Man and Harry Potter and Pirates of the Carribbean — all of these started out well past 100m opening weekend. So 75m wasn’t all that fast. But when weekend two came around all these films dropped a minimum of 30% (even Return of the King dropped 30%) but Avatar didn’t — it basically held even, posting another $75m. It was that second weekend performance that got my attention and made me start comparing it to Titanic. Now, as I write this comment, it’s Wednesday of the second week and Avatar posted extraordinary Monday and Tuesday numbers — 19m and 18m respectively. Both numbers are higher than the opening week numbers — again, defying the usual trends and patterning after Titanic. Anyway, this is all in good fun, I’m not sure why I’m getting in the prediction game, but it’s strangely invigorating. If I turn out to be right that’ll be great; if I have to eat crow, oh well. No big deal. Oh, and one other note. You mention doing the analysis from a ‘single piece of raw data’. I don’t see it that way. I think had I made the case after opening weekend — that would be a single piece of raw data. But once we had a chance to see the Sunday/Monday drop, and then the second weekend — now there were more pieces of data to correlate. The Sunday/Monday comparison and the Weekend 1 to Weekend 2 comparison were enough, I think, to make it clear that Avatar is on a trajectory that is more like Titanic than it is like the standard blockbusters. And it doesn’t need for its legs to be as long as Titanic’s — after all it’s 150m ahead of where Titanic was after 11 days, so that’s a pretty big lead, and it’s maintaining its lead every day although that will eventually stop, and Titanic will start gaining on it.

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