Avatar: The Way of Water is a movie about fish. I want to know if it flopped like one.
Maybe alien fish don’t flop? I mean, it’s well-documented that fish do flop and are generally assholes. Some people even think that they’re responsible for prostitution in Ohio, but this is beside the point. For today, we only have one fish to fry—and this particular one took 13 years to make and cost $350 million to make.
So what exactly is a flop?
A flop is any movie that for one reason or another doesn’t turn a profit. It doesn’t mean that the movie was bad per se (although many flops are) it simply means that the movie cost more money to make than it ended up earning at the box office.
Sometimes, it’s because the movie gets a lot of negative press and nobody wants to see it. Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of bad timing. Movies that hit the theaters at the same time Covid-19 did? Odds are, they were flops.
Sometimes things flop because the budget of the film was so insanely high that it’s nearly impossible for the film to make any money even if it does well at the box office. For example, the 1980 film Heaven’s Gate, exceeded its planned production schedule by three months. This doesn’t sound like that long of a time, but it caused the film’s budget to balloon from $12 million to $44 million, almost quadruple what it was projected to cost.
The film only earned $3.5 million at the box office, and while that could have meant that it only made a quarter of what it had cost had the filming process gone smoothly, it ended up making only 1.5% of the film’s total cost. This made Heaven’s Gate one of the biggest flops ever and was so devastating to the film industry that it caused the shift in decision-making power from directors to studios. After all, it bankrupted the studio that produced it, an unfortunate result that modern studios undoubtedly wish to avoid.
What’s the story with Avatar 2?
According to Deadline, Avatar: The Way of Water made around $135 million over the course of its opening weekend. This is is far lower than what Disney had originally hoped, as they had projected that the film would make anywhere between $167 million and $192 million in the course of the weekend. Director James Cameron has declined to say how expensive the film was, with “very fucking [expensive]” being his only answer according to an interview with GQ.
However, Variety reports that the film would need to make over $2 billion worldwide to break even. According to Cameron, this means that the film would need to be the fourth or fifth highest-grossing film in history in order to even come close to turning a profit. That is one hell of a bet. Who thought this was a solid business model?
So it’s a flop, right?
Well, according to Edie Falco it is. According to an interview with the actor, she assumed that it was a flop because she thought it came out “years ago” and she hadn’t heard anything about it. It wouldn’t be hard to make that mistake, considering the film took over a decade to make. The answer is far more complicated, however.
Avatar: The Way of Water has made less than it was projected to during its opening weekend, but it still has the entire holiday season to go. The first Avatar installment had only modest box office success when it hit theaters in 2009, but then went on to become the highest-grossing movie of all time. The Way Of Water has reportedly already made over $60 million dollars more on its opening weekend than its predecessor and is the sixth best-performing film with a December opening in history.
The film also tied with The Batman as the fifth highest-grossing film in its opening weekend in 2022, and it is the second-best opening in history for a movie sequel. Avatar: The Way of Water has also grossed over $435 million worldwide. It’s gonna take at least another month before we can call this one a box office bomb or a success once and for all.
But here’s the thing…James Cameron doesn’t miss.
Listen, I’m not really a fan of blockbuster movies. In fact, I get a sick, perverse thrill when these CGI-soaked monstrosities fail to make the gobs and gobs of money that went into their creation. I honestly think it’s perverse how much we SPEND on making films like this in the first place. They’re never amazing, they’re never mind-blowing pieces of cinema, and (allow me to sound like a jackass for a second), these films are rarely “artistically important”. They’re just cash grabs. Massive, decadent cash grabs which tell a forgettable story that will entertain the masses for a couple of hours and make some already wealthy people even wealthier. It’s a tired old formula, but the thing about James Cameron is that he has got it down to an exact science.
That’s no shade on James Cameron! I’m honestly in awe of the amount of box office successes that man has made during his tenure on this planet. Lightning hardly strikes in the same place twice, but James Cameron is basically a teenager standing in a kiddie pool while holding a metal bat above his head in the middle of an open field screaming “I CHALLENGE YOU, GOD” to the stormy heavens. The man really knows how to court a lightning strike. After all, he made Titanic. At the time, it was one of the most expensive films ever made, and it ended up making more money than almost every other film in history. You’d think that Jimmy was done. You’d think that was all he had in him. But NO, this man managed to basically repackage Disney’s Pocahontas, blast it off into space, and make an absolute killing. And does it surprise me? No, it doesn’t.
This is the man who is said to have pitched a sequel to Ridley Scott’s Alien by walking into a meeting of studio executives, writing the word “ALIEN” on a whiteboard with a magic marker, and then drawing a “$” on the end of it and BAM—Aliens was born.
I’m not saying the Avatar: The Way of Water is gonna be a success. What I’m saying is that if there’s anyone in the world who can make a silly movie about giant blue aliens swimming around a success, it’s James Cameron.
(Featured image: 20th Century Studios)
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