By now it's not a question of if but when.
As it heads into its second weekend of cinematic domination, "Avengers: Endgame" is sure to cross $2 billion in global box office very soon (all figures in USD).
Coming off a record-breaking opening weekend, Marvel's superhero epic is already at $1.66 billion worldwide. And with both America (responsible for $462 million of that) and international juggernauts such as China still going strong, that pair of bills is easily attainable. It's just a matter of which day.
And not long after the film hits that threshold it will almost certainly leapfrog other blockbusters on the global earnings chart: "Avengers: Infinity War" ($2.05 billion), "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," ($2.07 billion) and "Titanic" ($2.19 billion).
In film, though, those are only the silver medals. The big prize is "Avatar." James Cameron's 3-D intergalactic tale of the Na'vi and Pandora is the standard for global blockbusters for the way it dominated theaters at the end of 2009 and the early parts of 2010. Its total is $2.78 billion, a crown no blockbuster (even an MCU blockbuster) can ever seem to take.
Or can it? Since last weekend's startling "Endgame" numbers (including a $357 million opening in the US), pundits have begun asking the kind of question that seldom gets asked - whether the previously unobtainium is possible. As this story put it, "Can 'Avengers: Endgame' Topple 'Avatar's' $2.8 Billion All-Time Record?' "
The talk of the film crossing that threshold is far more intriguing - and complicated.
There are certainly pathways for it to get there. The US will be key to that effort. The movie will need a big second weekend beginning this Friday and continuing through Sunday - a solid number would be $175 million (a drop-off of 50 percent is considered difficult but not impossible for big-budget blockbusters). That would help power it to an additional $400 million in the US atop the nearly half a billion it's already grossed and get it within sniffing distance of the blue creatures.
It's the inflation, stupid
"Endgame" will also need to have staying power in China, the world's second-largest theatrical market by dollars and one that's been very essential to its smashdom to date. In fact, China is responsible for $460 million of box office in its own right. (No other foreign country is close to $100 million).
But here's why even if the movie gets to $2.78 billion, it will never be bigger than "Avatar."
The most obvious reason is inflation. 'Avatar' is just 15th on an inflation-adjusted ranking of all-time box office hits, which is headed by Gone With the Wind.
Movie tickets cost a lot more now than they did in 2009 - a full 20 percent more in the United States alone. That means "Avatar" would have grossed some $150 million more here than its $760 million domestic total in today's dollars, a number that actually puts "Avatar's" global total near the three-billion-dollar mark.
Of course a lot of "Avatar" tickets came in 3-D, which cost a lot more to begin with. So the idea that "Endgame" isn't matching "Avatar's" popularity because movie tickets cost more in 2019 isn't exactly accurate.
... and China
But here's why it really shouldn't be considered a bigger hit. If you play on fewer screens, you'll take in less money. And "Avatar" was playing on fewer screens than "Endgame." A lot fewer screens.
And the biggest country in which that was the case? China.
Yes, the Middle Kingdom has been responsible for $460 million of "Endgame" box office so far, more than double the $204 million "Avatar" took in there. But the Marvel movie has a major advantage in China that "Avatar" didn't have when it came out - the country has been blanketed with movie theaters in the past decade. In fact, there are entire towns and cities that couldn't play the Cameron-fest but can now play "Endgame."
Back then, the country as a whole had just under 5,000 screens. Wanna guess how many it has now?
No, it's higher than that.
Nope. Still higher.
There are now as estimated 60,000 movie screens in China. (The US has 41,000.)
This makes for an astonishing figure - for "Avatar." That movie managed to take in nearly half as much as "Endgame" in China despite theater capacity that wasn't even a 10th of what it is now.
Even if "Endgame" continues to rake in the coin in China, garnering as much as three times as "Avatar," it still shouldn't be equated with the Cameron blockbuster for this reason: It's had more than 10 times the screens on which to play.
(Incidentally, this is also true, to a lesser degree, in the United States. "Avatar" was on at most 3,460 screens, 30 percent fewer than the 4,660 screens "Endgame" has been on.)
So yes, even if "Endgame" surpasses the $2.78 billion mark with a colossal, massive and generally adjective-defying global performance, it will, as far as movie-popularity rankings are concerned, always be No. 2.
Of course that hasn't stopped some pundits from preparing for a global showdown involving the MCU movie. If it does cross that number, some have asked whether "Endgame" can be dethroned for another reason.
As this pundit put it, "Is 'Avatar 2' The Film To Break 'Avengers Endgame''s Box Office Record?"