As was widely expected, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has now passed Avatar as the highest domestic box office movie of all-time as of this morning, this despite a somewhat hilarious attempt by a so-called “men’s rights” group to organize a stinging boycott. Not even George Lucas thought it would happen, but the record was broken in just 20 days. By the end of the day yesterday, the new Star Wars blockbuster had earned $758.2 million. It had and earned the remainder it needed to pass Avatar’s $760.5 million domestic box office this morning. Avatar and The Force Awakens are the only two movies to ever gross more than $700 million in North America.
Globally, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has earned about $1.54 billion, and the film has yet to open in China. That happens in three more days on February 9. Avatar did a total worldwide box office of $2.78 billion over its entire release cycle, and the newest installment of Star Wars has accomplished about half this in just 20 days. Given 30 more, it’s entirely possible that The Force Awakens will surpass $1 billion domestic, and will be the first movie ever to do so — and it will be a record that will likely stand for a very very long time. Estimates that it will lag behind Avatar barring a last minute surge are probably wrong.
The original Star Wars movie in 1977 stayed in theaters months on end, with some venues running it clear through into 1978 continuously, wearing out print after print. With so many movies in the Star Wars franchise, popular media is now saturated with Star Wars. At what point does audience burnout start to kick in? All the original films in the series were rereleased, and there is now so much content that burnout is a real danger to the franchise. If that is going to happen, though, we see no signs of it so far.
Now, let’s look at the differences between Avatar and Star Wars. The reason Avatar made $2.7 billion worldwide and yet has no fan base has more to do with the fact that viewers of the film had nothing to hold onto when they left the theater. None of the main characters were exceptional except the N’avi, and they were exceptional because they were alien life forms. Unfortunately they were also completely impossible to cosplay unless you happened to be very tall or skinny as a rail and didn’t mind painting yourself blue head to foot.
One of the strong determining factors in whether a film will develop a strong fan base is whether or not artifacts from that film can be recreated by fans for their own pleasure. If a film does not contain these elements it will not develop a fan base, and that’s all there is to it. Hence, Avatar has no perceivable fan base, and Star Wars does, and so does Star Trek. Battlestar Galactica has a fan base, but Robocop doesn’t.
The rule is fairly consistent. If the film contains no artifacts that fans can recreate for their own enjoyment to make them feel more a part of the world that that movie or TV show portrays, it will never develop a fan base such as what we see with Star Wars fandom. This persistence of attention factor is why we think Star Wars: The Force Awakens will sail past Avatar in terms of total global box office, because the world portrayed in Star Wars is “sticky”, and the world portrayed in Avatar is not.