James Cameron's blockbuster sci-fi film Avatar is returning to theaters but only in China. Without warning, the film will begin screening in Chinese theaters on Friday. Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that China's Film Bureau approved the surprise release, which will see the technologically groundbreaking film screening in IMAX 3D and standard 3D. If Chinese audiences are eager enough, they could put Avatar back into the top spot on the box office all-time list. The film was once the highest-grossing film ever, earning $2.790 billion when 20th Century Fox released it in 2009. A decade later, Avengers: Endgame surpassed it when the Marvel Studios film opened in 2019 and went on to earn $2.797 billion worldwide.
That means that if Avatar earns at least $7.4 million in China during its re-release, it'll become the highest-grossing film ever once again. That's all music to The Walt Disney Company's Mickey Mouse ears since the company now owns both Marvel Studios and 20th Century Fox (now 20th Century Studios).
Though the release was not officially announced, the Chinese Film Bureau did foreshadow the move last March when it requested the film, among several others, return to theaters as the country seemed to be getting its COVID-19 outbreak under control. A resurgence delayed plans those plans, but sources tell THR the deals were complete. Theaters are reopening in the country, but those theaters lack content as Hollywood's studios, except Warner Bros., are holding back their biggest blockbusters while waiting for America's vaccine rollout to convince audiences it is safe to return to theaters. With no new Hollywood blockbusters, the Chinese exhibitors decided to go ahead with the previous plan to release at least one old blockbuster.
As THR notes, Avatar holds a special place in the hearts of Chinese moviegoers of a certain age. In 2009, it was one of the first major Hollywood blockbuster films to sweep the nation at the start of China's box office boom, with audiences lining up in the January snow to get into the theaters. The film broke the weekday opening record in China, where it went on to earn $202.6 million, a staggering sum for the market at the time.
James Cameron is currently at work on four planned Avatar sequels. Production on Avatar 2 wrapped in September. While Avatar 3 will follow soon after, those first two sequels' success will determine whether the fourth and fifth films get made.
Avatar is streaming now on Disney+.