Evaluating the Impact of Avatar (the blue people one)

Will Donahue ‘24

Opinions Editor

It’s been over thirteen years since James Cameron’s “Avatar” was released in theaters, and I’ll be the first to admit that the film did not have a lot of cultural sticking power. So when the marketing campaign for “Avatar: The Way of Water” finally started up in 2022, I and many others began to wonder: can an expensive sequel to a film with as little relevancy as “Avatar” not only make a profit, but become one of the highest grossing films of all time? In short: yes. As of me writing this article, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is sitting at a hefty $2.174 billion at the worldwide box office (Box Office Mojo) – the fourth highest box office gross of all time. I realize it’s probably impossible to narrow down the success of “The Way of Water” to a few key factors, but I’m going to try anyway.

Reason #1: It looks beautiful. Breathtaking visuals are perhaps the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions the “Avatar” franchise. The first “Avatar” film revolutionized the world of VFX when it brought audiences to Pandora, a fictional world best experienced in 3D on the biggest screen available. Its sequel boasts similarly impressive and otherworldly visuals, now with thirteen years worth of tech development behind them. In fact, “The Way of Water” notably features motion-capture performances filmed underwater – a new achievement in VFX technology (New York Times). With such positive buzz surrounding the look of the film, it’s no wonder audiences are filling up theaters to experience Pandora once again on the big screen.

Reason #2: The story is simple. If the visuals are the first thing people associate with “Avatar” and its sequel, the actual plot might be the last. Depending on who you ask, the plot of the first “Avatar” film is simple at best – and downright offensive at worst. And for better or worse, the sequel follows a similar narrative structure. While I do not disagree with the narrative criticisms of “The Way of Water”, the simplicity of the plot likely works in the film’s favor. An easily digestible story means wider audience appeal, which translates to more box office earnings. Plus, the meandering plot of “The Way of Water” lets the audience stay focused on the visuals, which are – as evidenced by my previous point – good.

Reason #3: The James Cameron factor. Sure, “Avatar” might not have a devoted fandom or decades worth of source material to draw from, but who needs that when you got good ol’ Jimmy C directing? In all seriousness, James Cameron’s name alone is a sizable box office draw. Even if audiences don’t remember much about “Avatar” before checking out “The Way of Water”, they probably remember liking his stuff. And with over forty years of iconic blockbusters to his name – including “The Terminator”, “Aliens”, and “Titanic” – the man has a lot of stuff to like. Say what you will about his ego, or his simplistic storytelling, or his notoriously difficult attitude on set – but no one can deny James Cameron’s impressive track record.

Reason #4: “Avatar” is more popular than we thought. In the age of multimedia juggernaut franchises like Star Wars or Marvel, it might seem easy to forget about the “Avatar” franchise – which, until recently, had little more than a single film and a theme park to its name. But even though “Avatar” doesn’t have the most passionate fans, it might actually have the most fans. Everyone and their mother saw “Avatar” back in 2009, and most people liked it a decent amount. With such a wide audience appeal, “The Way of Water” doesn’t need a legion of devoted internet fans to achieve success. And with more sequels on the horizon and a newly reinvigorated fandom, who knows – we just might have the next Star Wars on our hands.

Image credits to CNBC.

Categories: Opinions

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