Posted by: Jonathan Barron | November 24, 2009

Will “Avatar” Pay the Bills?

James Cameron doesn’t know when to quit.  Some say he is the most anal retentive, obsessive film director in Hollywood.  He knows exactly what he wants, and gets it.  In December, the world will be introduced to a new vision from the legendary artist.  “Avatar” opens in theaters on December 18, 2009.  There is no doubt that this film will make money.  However, the question remains, will it be profitable?

Mr. Cameron has the luxury of having the biggest film of all time under his belt.  Indeed, “Titanic” made over $600 million domestically.  When the film was released in 1997, critics were skeptical about it’s ability to turn a profit.  In fact, many predicted it’s dismal failure.  James Cameron certainly had the last laugh and was “King of the World” that year.

All of Cameron’s films, from Terminator 1 and 2 to Aliens and True Lies, have turned a profit.  He is one of Hollywood’s most solid investments.  But, every filmmaker has his flop.  “Avatar” could be that flop.

It is important to remember why “Titanic” made money.  It had something for everyone.  It offered action, drama, and a love story.  “Avatar” is different.  It is pure science fiction, with an unfamiliar subject matter and it doesn’t enjoy a series of bestselling teen novels to back it up.  To make matters worse (even though studio execs are playing this down) the film has a budget of $500 million which includes production, post production and marketing.  This virtually matches what “The Dark Knight” made domestically and is $100 million shy of what “Titanic” earned.

The studio has said that if this film makes a profit, it will depend on what it makes worldwide.  I tend to agree.  Make no mistake, when this film comes to theaters, I will be first in line at the local IMAX.  There is one undeniable truth about James Cameron.  When this man wants to make a film, he makes the film exactly how he wants it.  He has earned that right over the years.  I will tone down my skepticism, (he has proved us wrong before) and go see what will probably be one of the most compelling and satisfying films of the year.

I will probably be in my early 40’s when he decides to do another film.  I’m pushing for “Aquaman”.  I will definitely see that, even if it stars a saggy Arnold Swartzenegger.

Jonathan Barron

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