Just when you expect to finally stop seeing news headlines about James Cameron’s Avatar, it pulls off some kind of new, unexpected feat. In the last two weeks, it has racked up two more.
First, the 2009 film’s initial re-release in China allowed it to vault ahead of Avengers: Endgame to reclaim the title of the highest grossing film of all time at the global box office, with roughly $2.834 billion at the moment. And now, this second weekend of its re-release in China sees the 11-year-old FX spectacular earning more in this run than Disney’s Mulan managed to do in China in 2020. In two weeks, Avatar has made an additional $44 million in China.
Granted, this speaks more to the disappointing box office returns on Mulan than anything else. Disney had been hoping to court the massive Chinese film market (even during the pandemic) with Chinese stars such as veteran actress Gong Li and Liu Yifei as Mulan, but the film was criticized in the Middle Kingdom for being a “westernized” version of the classic Chinese folk tale. It made only $41 million in China, which was only a fraction of the $120 million that the Lion King remake made, although once again the pandemic played a role here as well.
Still, it’s somewhat embarrassing for a would-be Disney blockbuster to be upstaged by a re-release of an 11-year-old James Cameron movie. It does demonstrate, however, that the global popularity of Avatar is still strong, despite the fact that it can often feel like the movie didn’t make a huge, lasting cultural impact in the U.S., even with its groundbreaking (at the time) technology and 3D presentation. It will be very interesting to see how much American interest there is for the much-delayed Avatar 2 and its subsequent sequels—filming has been completed, and that film is currently scheduled to arrive on Dec. 16, 2022, with subsequent sequels in 2024, 2026 and 2028.
One also has to wonder: How long will Disney wait before trying yet another Endgame re-release to get that all time record back?