Will Star Wars: The Force Awakens Beat Avatar's All-Time Box Office Record?

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In 2009, James Cameron and 20th Century Fox released Avatar, a CGI-heavy science fiction epic about oppressive humans destroying an alien planet's ecosystem in the name of progress. Avatar had it all: lush alien landscapes, sexy blue cat people and giant mech suits piloted by evil Marines. In part because Avatar couldn't be properly enjoyed without seeing it in IMAX 3D, the movie grossed nearly $2.78 billion in theatres, making it the top grossing movie of all time. Due to its immense initial success, some pundits hailed Avatar as the next Star Wars, at least until the movie franchise faded due to Cameron's constant delays for a series of planned sequels.

Avatar might have been considered the "next Star Wars" at one point, but now the original Star Wars is back and brighter than ever with a new installment The Force Awakens. Fan fever for The Force Awakens quickly reached critical levels after the release of the first trailer, leading to millions of fans pre-ordering their tickets in anticipation for the film. Based on Friday's box office numbers, The Force Awakens seems set to obliterate the opening weekend domestic box office record of $208 million, set by Jurassic World earlier this year.

Unlike Jurassic World, which also benefited from a wave of nostalgia, The Force Awakens has received rave reviews. However, even if the new Star Wars movie hits $250 million in its opening weekend (which is astronomically high), it still has a long way to go to reach Avatar's $2.7 billion record. Still, if any movie can topple Avatar, it's The Force Awakens.

The key to The Force Awakens' long-term success isn't how the movie does this weekend, it's whether the movie can obtain success over the long run. The Force Awakens appears to share the same elements that made Avatar a juggernaut in theaters for much of 2009 and 2010: rewatchability and a fervent fanbase. Avatar's fans were OBSESSED about the movie's gorgeous landscapes and bizarre jungle creatures. Coupled with the groundbreaking CGI, both hardcore fans and casual moviegoers watched the Cameron film multiple times. Even more so than Avatar, The Force Awakens has a fervent, passionate fanbase who have wanted more Star Wars movies since 1983. And while the Prequel trilogy were a critical failure, they only strengthened the desire to see a good Star Wars film when it finally did come out. After all, how many of your friends or family have already seen The Force Awakens and are already making plans to see the film again? The Force Awakens will need its massive fanbase to see the film a couple of times if it hopes to beat Avatar's overall record.

The Force Awakens has another advantage over Avatar. Avatar's record was due to in part because of the expensive 3D tickets, which cost several dollars more than the average movie ticket. While 3D tickets are still more expensive than other films, ticket prices are up nearly a dollar from 2009, meaning that even if The Force Awakens can't move the amount of 3D tickets, it still has a built in advantage due to inflation and movie theaters pushing their prices ever higher.

One telling sign of The Force Awakens long term success will be how the movie does internationally. While Avatar did fantastic in the United States, it earned nearly $2 billion of its box office earnings overseas. The Force Awakens might be an internationally renowned franchise, but it'll still have to perform extremely well overseas if it wants to come close to beating Avatar's record.

The Force Awakens also has to deal with increased competition from other films. While Avatar didn't face any strong competition during its second and third months in theatres (its biggest competition were The Tooth Fairy and Shutter Island), The Force Awakens will face several films that could hurt its chances of breaking the overall box office record. While Kung Fu Panda 3 is the only big box office film coming out in January, February will bring Deadpool, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Zoolander 2, all of which could compete against The Force Awakens for viewers.

While The Force Awakens will likely be a smash success in the box office, it'll have to be a global phenomenon if it wants to topple Avatar's overall box office record. The Force is strong with the new Star Wars film, but time will tell if it can truly exceed expectations and become the biggest movie of all time.