Like most people, I enjoyed the first Avatar when I saw it in theaters back in 2009. The special effects were immersive, and the 3D was incredible. With word of James Cameron preparing to release Avatar 2 to the world (the release date, as of now, is December 17th, 2021) a lot of people are thinking that it will be another smash hit that will dominate the box office. That may prove to be true, but if anybody thinks that Avatar 2 will beat Avengers: Endgame at the box office, they’re way off.
But it makes sense, right? Avatar was once the highest grossing movie of all time until Avengers: Endgame knocked it off the top spot. Clearly, people love Avatar and are going to come out to see the sequel, right? Right? Well, maybe, maybe not, and I have a few reasons why those people might not.
Avatar Has Fans, But Not Much Of A Fanbase
There’s a great article on Rotten Tomatoes about this, but Avatar, the former biggest movie of all time, virtually has no fanbase whatsoever. What I mean is, sure, everybody has seen Avatar, right? But who cosplays as the Na’vi? Who tries to learn their language? I’ve been to several Comic Cons, and not once (not once!) have I ever seen anybody dressed up as a character from Avatar. In fact, I’ve seen several people dressed up as characters from Avatar: The Last Airbender, but nobody dressed up as “the blue people” as my wife likes to call them.
Which is strange since Avatar was a phenomenon. And when it first came out, some people were so enraptured by the world of Pandora that some reportedly needed therapy just to cope with the world not being real. But now, ask anybody, and they’ll likely shrug and say, “Yeah, I remember Avatar. It was good.” Or worse, “Avatar? You mean that movie that was just a rip-off of Dances With Wolves and Fern Gully? Yeah, I hate that movie.” But when it comes to Endgame and the Avengers, you couldn’t get a more rabid fanbase. And I should know, since I’m one of them.
The Tech is Kind of Blasé Now
I know that you can never count out James Cameron to set a new bar for the big screen, but I’m kind of doubting that he can do anything on the scale of what he did with the first Avatar when it comes to 3D. In fact, after Avatar, 3D kind of became a gross staple of the movie industry at the time, and movies that didn’t even plan for it were getting 3D in post-production just to catch up with the craze.
And while the 3D in Avatar was effective and wasn’t used in a cheap way with stuff flying toward the screen, 3D is so out of vogue these days that the movie would have to revolutionize 3D all over again in order to capitalize on the medium. And with people watching movies on their phones and tablets these days, I don’t think people care enough to head out to the theater just because something is in the third-dimension. It’s not going to happen.
The Franchise Has Lost Its Steam By Waiting Too Long
You know why everybody went to see Avengers: Endgame? It’s because Marvel is NEVER out of the public mind. And at the end of every Marvel movie, we’ve been trained to stick around so we can get excited for what’s coming next. In fact, half the hype of every Marvel movie is just waiting to see what the next movie will be. I mean, I don’t even know who the heck Shang-Chi is or who The Eternals are, but I’ll be there on DAY ONE when they both come out. Can you pre-order tickets yet, by the way? Because I will. Right now!
But Avatar? What’s that? Isn’t that that movie that came out all those years ago? I’m kidding, of course, but that’s how it feels. The first Iron Man came out in 2008, while Avatar came out in 2009. But if you ask people which movie came out first, they’ll probably say Avatar. And that’s because Iron Man is cemented in people’s minds as the start of something huge that just kept on going, while Avatar feels like it came out forever and a day ago. That’s not good.
The Story Was Too Bland in the First Movie
Now look. I think James Cameron is a tremendously talented storyteller. The first two Terminators are in my top 20 favorite movies of all time. I prefer Aliens to Alien (I know. Sacrilege). And I really like Titanic as an adult, even though I hated it as a kid. But Avatar has always been kind of bland when it came to storytelling. Sure, the visual effects were awesome, and that meant a lot back in 2009. But story-wise? Well, I’m glad it lost to The Hurt Locker when it came to Best Picture.
Avatar 2 (and 3 and 4) might be more inventive and interesting than the first one, but Avatar never had a character like Thanos snapping his fingers and wiping away half of its characters, which, if we’re being completely honest, is one of the main reasons we just HAD to see Endgame after that startling finale in Infinity War. Avatar has nothing like that going for it. I want to see it, yeah, but I won’t be rushing out the house to see it. I have kids now—which I didn’t have back when the first Avatar was in theaters. And that's because I don’t have time to see movies in the theater anymore. Not unless they’re Marvel movies, of course, in which I'll MAKE time.
So yeah, Avatar 2 will probably be cool and make a buttload of money at the box office, but there’s no way in the world it’s going to make more money than Avengers: Endgame. Hopefully, Avatars 3 and 4 will come out on time so we won’t have to wait over a decade for the sequel. But if they are delayed, then at least we’ll always have Marvel to fill the void. I guess that counts for something.