James Cameron’s 2009 movie “Avatar” set a global box office record of $2.79 billion that has remained uncontested since then. But the sci-fi epic’s reign is in danger for the first time in almost a decade, thanks to the remarkable performance of “Avengers: Endgame.”
Since the premiere of “Endgame” late last month, the Walt Disney Co. film has collected $2.24 billion in worldwide receipts, making it the second-highest-grossing film ever, passing Cameron’s 1997 juggernaut “Titanic” ($2.19 billion). “Endgame” hit the $2-billion mark in 11 days of release, according to studio estimates, by far the fastest any film has reached that milestone.
There’s no guarantee “Endgame” will pass “Avatar,” which became a cultural phenomenon in part because of its groundbreaking use of 3-D technology. In all-important China, where “Endgame” has grossed $581 million so far, Hollywood movies tend to open big and taper off quickly.
Yet, Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice.com, on Tuesday said “Avengers: Endgame” could become the new all-time box-office champion by the end of Memorial Day weekend. Although the film has already opened in most major international markets, it continues to draw audiences worldwide.
“Considering it’s a record that’s held up for nine years, this will be a monumental achievement,” Robbins said. “‘Endgame’ has summoned audiences around the world as part of a cultural and cinematic event that marks an end to an unprecedented type of multi-film storytelling.”
Disney, which recently acquired “Avatar” through its $71.3-billion purchase of 21st Century Fox, declined to comment on projections for “Endgame.” The Burbank entertainment giant has multiple “Avatar” sequels in the works. On Tuesday, the company delayed the release of “Avatar 2” until December 2021, pushing the long-anticipated film back a year.
“Endgame” is the capstone of a wildly successful run for Disney-owned Marvel Studios and its president, Kevin Feige, the architect of Marvel’s cinematic strategy since “Iron Man” in 2008. The 22nd installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe proved to be a can’t-miss event for fans waiting to see how the cliffhanger of last year’s “Avengers: Infinity War” would be resolved.
“Endgame” has been so dominant that new movies that dared to cross its path got trampled as the Marvel movie collected $147 million in North America in its second weekend. Sony Pictures’ low-budget thriller “The Intruder,” starring Dennis Quaid, opened with $11 million. Meanwhile, Lionsgate’s “Long Shot,” a romantic comedy starring Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron set in the world of politics, opened with a disappointing $10 million in its first three days of release.
STX Films’ children’s movie “UglyDolls,” the studio’s first big bet in the animation business, suffered from a combination of heavy competition and bad reviews. The movie, based on a line of misfit toys and co-produced by China’s Alibaba Pictures, opened with a paltry $8.5 million in domestic sales. STX is also preparing an “UglyDolls” series for Hulu.
Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures hope to fare better this week with “Pokemon Detective Pikachu,” a live-action/computer animation hybrid based on the beloved yellow Pokemon character. The $150-million picture, featuring the voice of Ryan Reynolds, is expected to premiere with $55 million Friday through Sunday, according to people who have reviewed pre-release audience surveys.
Nonetheless, analysts say “Endgame” will probably remain the top movie in North America this weekend, probably grossing an additional $75 million. So far in the U.S. and Canada, “Endgame” has raked in $623 million, making it the No. 7 domestic movie of all time, not adjusting for inflation.
“The road to topping ‘Avatar’ looks pretty clear, especially considering there are no other traditional superhero roadblocks in its way, and even true blockbusters are far and few between from now until the end of May,” said Jeff Bock, a box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations.
The film has been a boon for theater owners, who slogged through the first several months of the year with a lack of major hits to play on their screens. Before “Endgame,” 2019 ticket revenue was down more than 16% from the same period of time last year. “Endgame” almost single-handedly cut that deficit to 9.7% by Sunday, according to measurement firm Comscore.
Chris Johnson, chief executive of Classic Cinemas, which operates about 100 screens in Illinois, said his theaters continued to enjoy strong pre-sales online for “Endgame” in its second weekend. The results have spurred his company to accelerate its transition to online ticket sales and reserved seating for its auditoriums, he said.
“It was absolutely insane,” Johnson said of the movie’s performance. “It kind of jump-started a slow year, kicking the business into full gear.”
Nonetheless, some records appear to remain safe for now.
“Avengers: Endgame” is not expected to beat the domestic benchmark set by 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (also a Disney film), which collected $936.7 million in the U.S. and Canada. “Endgame” will probably end up with about $870 million, according to industry estimates, putting it in second place behind the Lucasfilm movie directed by J.J. Abrams.
Also, all the talk about records changes dramatically when accounting for ticket price increases over the years. Adjusting for today’s ticket prices, the true U.S. record holder for ticket sales remains the 1939 Oscar winner “Gone With the Wind,” according to Box Office Mojo. Its tally stands at $1.82 billion.