James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ Loses Title of “Highest-Grossing Film”, Indicates Shift in Cinema

in Avatar, Movies

James Cameron speaking on the right side and Avatar Character on the left side with Avatar Logo

Credit: Inside the Magic

Change is in the air.

20th Century Studios' 'Avatar: The Way of Water' (2022)
Credit: 20th Century Studios

Related: James Cameron Accused of Copying Beloved Franchise After Plot of ‘Avatar 3’ Revealed

The Avatar movie franchise originates from the mind of globally acclaimed filmmaker James Cameron. With consistent box office earnings in the billions, the Avatar series (the one with the blue aliens, not the Airbenders) has long stood as the reigning champion for the highest-grossing movie of all time. The franchise’s first 2009 film Avatar and its subsequent theatrical re-releases have amassed a total revenue that is simply staggering — nearly $3 billion.

Still from 'Avatar: The Way of Water' teasing the possibilities for an 'Avatar'- inspired expansion at Disneyland Resort
Credit: 20th Century Studios

Avatar: the Top Box-Office Earner

However, in 2019, the superhero phenomenon Avengers: Endgame, part of Marvel Studios’ Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) owned by The Walt Disney Company, surpassed the 2009 Avatar film in earnings. Even beyond the cinematic realm, the Avatar brand extends its influence to theme parks, such as Pandora — The World of Avatar situated within Walt Disney World Resort’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida, alongside other distinctive attractions.

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) in Avatar: The Way of Water on the left and Kiri te Suli Kìreysì'ite Closeup on the right
Credit: inside the Magic

The more recent sequel Avatar: The Way of Water (2022) came remarkably close to dethroning Endgame (a fact that likely infuriates Cameron).

Avatar: The Way of Water or Avatar 2 features the return of leading actors Zoe Saldaña (Neytiri te Tskaha Mo’at’ite, also known as Neytiri Sully) and Sam Worthington (Jake Sully), now portraying the roles of parents to Sigourney Weaver’s Kiri te Suli Kireysi’ite (Kiri Sully), the adoptive teenage daughter of Jake and Neytiri. Their biological offspring are brought to life by Jamie Flatters as Neteyam te Suli Tsyeyk’itan (Neteyam Sully), Britain Dalton as Lo’ak te Suli Tsyeyk’itan (Lo’ak Sully), and Trinity Jo-Li Bliss as Tuktirey “Tuk” te Suli Neytiri’ite (Tuktirey “Tuk” Sully).

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) in 20th Century Studios' AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. ©2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
Credit: 20th Century Studios/ Disney

Related: ‘Avatar’ Director James Cameron Puts Marvel Movies On Blast For Not Being “Realistic”

The ensemble cast also includes Jemaine Clement as Dr. Ian Garvin, Kate Winslet as Metkayina tribe’s Ronal, Cliff Curtis as Chief Tonowari, Joel David Moore as Dr. Norm Spellman, CCH Pounder as Mo’at, and Jack Champion as Miles Socorro AKA Spider. Returning to the series, Stephen Lang reprises his role as Colonel Miles Quaritch, the antagonist from the first film whose memories have been integrated into a Na’vi Avatar body as a “recombinant” after his demise.

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) in Avatar: The Way of Water
Credit: 20th Century Studios

James Cameron’s Newest Challenger

What could be poised to topple Avatar director James Cameron’s mega-box office empire worth multiple billions of dollars?

Why, a little movie about a child’s plaything, of course.

Margot Robbie in role of Barbie in 'Barbie' Movie (2023) as 'Barbie' sequel reported
Credit: Inside the Magic

Under the guidance of writer and director Greta Gerwig and co-written with Baumbach, the recent Barbie movie underwent a transformation after years of production hell into a fantasy comedy film, which saw its theatrical release on July 20, 2023. Drawing inspiration from Mattel’s beloved Barbie doll line throughout history, the film followed Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as Ken on an adventure as they departed from the picturesque Barbie Land in search of self-discovery.

Actress Margo Robbie and Actor Ryan Gosling in roles of Barbie and Ken in 'Barbie' (2023) Movie
Credit: Inside the Magic

Recently, Variety reported that James Cameron’s previous record had been toppled in Irish box office charts by none other than Greta Gerwig’s Barbie. Both of Cameron’s past top earners, Avatar and Titanic (1997) had been “swept past” by Gerwig’s new Barbie film, in “the country’s all-time top 10 chart”:

Barbie is now the all-time box office champion in Ireland with an €8.85 million ($9.57 million) gross.

Why is this relevant? Because it indicates a massive shift in cinema-goers’ diets — with a distinct move away from the show-stopping (and expensive) CGI epics favored by Cameron to Gerwig’s particular brand of irreverent, playful and decidedly feminist humor. Barbie takes a step toward camp with a surprising amount of introspection on constructed gender roles in society — a far cry from the dazzling effects-forward fantasy epic of Avatar or the people-pleasing action-packed CGI superhero blockbuster.

This shift in trends in Ireland could absolutely indicate a bigger sweep of changes on a global scale. Gerwig is already the first female director to have a movie gross over a billion (with the movie still in theaters worldwide), and the Barbie star just seems to keep rising. With Mattel ready and willing to invest in a Mattel Cinematic Universe — it could very well be that audiences will see a whole different “MCU” at the top of the box office charts in the years to come.

What do you think about shifting audience trends? Is James Cameron’s Avatar at risk of losing its crown internationally? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

More on Barbie

Apart from the obvious Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as Ken, the star-studded cast of the Barbie film also included America Ferrera, who portrayed Gloria, a Mattel employee who discovered Barbie in the real world. Kate McKinnon took on the role of Weird Barbie, while Issa Rae shone as President Barbie. Rhea Perlman embodied Ruth Handler, and Will Ferrell portrayed the CEO of Mattel. The film also featured various interpretations of Barbie, with Hari Nef as Dr. Barbie, Alexandra Shipp as Writer Barbie, Emma Mackey as Physicist Barbie, Sharon Rooney as Lawyer Barbie, Dua Lipa as Mermaid Barbie, Nicola Coughlan as Diplomat Barbie, Ana Cruz Kayne as Judge Barbie, and Ritu Arya as Journalist Barbie.

Different versions of Ken were brought to life by Kingsley Ben-Adir, Simu Liu, Scott Evans, and Ncuti Gatwa, with John Cena embodying Merman Ken. Additionally, Helen Mirren served as the narrator, Emerald Fennell took on the role of Midge, and Michael Cera played Allan. Together, this ensemble cast brought the beloved Barbie characters to the big screen in a film that was highly anticipated.

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