‘Avatar’ Reclaims All-Time Box Office Crown Following Imax China Re-Release

A new generation of Chinese moviegoers this weekend flocked to the virtual world of Pandora, as Imax Corporation generated $6.2 million at the box office with the re-release of James Cameron’s 2009 sci-fi epic Avatar, helping it reclaim the all-time box office crown.

Imax theaters captured 30% of the movie’s weekend box office, despite accounting for only 1% of screens in the market. The strong performance helped Avatar once again become the top-grossing theatrical release of all time with more than $2.8 billion in ticket sales. Imax has now earned a lifetime box office of $249.5 million with Avatar, which remains the highest-grossing film in the high-definition 3D format.

“A big-screen sized thank you to Imax for their contribution to the success of Avatar at the box office,” producer Jon Landau said in a statement.

Imax CEO Rich Gelfond says Avatar changed “everything” for the exhibitor’s business model — catapulting brand awareness, notably in China.

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“Yet again, Chinese moviegoers are demonstrating the pent-up demand for theatrical blockbusters that awaits cinemas around the world as they reopen,” Gelfond said.

The original 2010 Imax 3D release of Avatar in China generated $24 million on only 14 screens — a per screen average of $1.7 million — and playing to round-the-clock sold out shows. The film jumpstarted Imax’s ascent to become one of the most recognized entertainment brands in China.

The following year, the exhibitor signed a 75-theater deal with Wanda — at the time the company’s biggest international theater deal ever — and established Imax China as its own wholly-owned subsidiary of the company. Today, China is Imax’s biggest market in terms of theaters with more than 700, and the market accounts for approximately one-third of the company’s annual global box office.

Nine out of the top 10 performing Chinese theaters screening Avatar over the weekend were Imax, and the film is the highest grossing re-release in 3D since Chinese theaters reopened in July.

With this weekend’s re-release, Avatar reclaimed the box office crown it relinquished to Disney/Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame in 2019. Imax holds a piece of the history of both films. Avengers: Endgame continues to hold the record for the biggest opening weekend of any Imax film ever, with $91.5 million worldwide, and was the second Hollywood film ever to be shot entirely with Imax cameras.

The second and third installments of the “Avatar” franchise are currently slated for December 2022 and 2024, respectively.

Disney Brass Surprised at Fox Studio Underperformance

Back when Rupert Murdoch weighed in on 21st Century Fox fiscal calls, the senior media mogul was quick to praise the success of movies such as Avatar and Planet of the Apes. He was also quick to dismiss box office misses as part of a studio’s rollercoaster existence.

The fickle nature of theatrical releases in an age of over-the-top video, ultimately, is one of the reasons Murdoch put Fox Studio up for sale along with other media assets.

Disney’s $71.3 billion acquisition of 20th Century Fox Film Corp. was in part for the studio’s catalog, majority ownership of Hulu and future box office releases.

Apparently, Disney CEO Bob Iger and CFO Christine McCarthy weren’t prepared for a fiscal downturn at Fox Studio so soon after completion of the acquisition earlier this year.

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On the Aug. 6 fiscal call McCarthy disclosed that Fox posted a third-quarter (ended June 29) operating loss of $170 million — the opposite of a projected $180 million operating profit.

“One of the biggest issues we faced in the quarter was the performance of the Fox film business,” Iger said. “It was well below what it had been and well below what we thought it would be when we did the acquisition.”

Disney was quick to lay the blame on Dark Phoenix, whose reported $200 million production budget dwarfed its $65.8 million domestic box office. The film did generate more than $252 million internationally.

“I know what happens when a company gets bought,” Iger said, “Typically, operations and decision making comes to a halt. We avoided that when we acquired Pixar and Lucasfilm, but this was a very different position for Fox.”

Indeed, Disney announced the Fox deal in 2018, but the transaction wasn’t finalized until this March. While Fox will likely bounce back theatrically (Iger has high hopes for Ford vs. Ferrari), in the meantime, Disney’s theatrical prowess shows no sign of slowing.

With Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm content overperforming, Disney has generated a record $8 billion at the box office thus far in 2019.