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Avatar Raises the Bar

After five weeks in theaters U.S. sales for James Cameron's Avatar, the largest 3-D release in history, stand at $491 million and $1.120 billion overseas. The movie from Twentieth Century Fox made $77 million in

April 6, 2018

6 Min Read

After five weeks in theaters U.S. sales for James Cameron's Avatar, the largest 3-D release in history, stand at $491 million and $1.120 billion overseas. The movie from Twentieth Century Fox made $77 million in its opening weekend in the U.S. with sales slipping only 3 percent from Saturday to Sunday, a strong showing especially considering that the East Coast was hit with its first major snowstorm that same weekend. Sales overseas from Saturday to Sunday showed an increase of 3 percent with opening weekend global box office sales totaling $165 million. i1_713.jpg

In its fifth weekend, the movie remained No. 1 overall for the Jan. 16 weekend with sales of $41.3 million followed by The Book of Eli (which actually won the box office on Friday night) with a total of $31.6 million in sales, The Lovely Bones with $17.1 million; Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel with $11.5 million and Sherlock Holmes at $9.8 million.

Avatar is on track to become the highest-grossing domestic movie of all time, spurred on, in part, by viewers buying 3-D tickets at a $15 premium. The current holder of that distinction is Cameron's other mega-hit Titanic, which grossed $600 million in sales.

The film was originally scheduled to open in May 2009, but more time was needed for post-production. On the upside, the delay gave theaters more time to add 3-D projectors, but the new Dec. 18 date pushed the movie's release just beyond the holiday's prime selling season. In the weeks leading up to its release, film trailers and promotions with big names such as Coca-Cola and McDonald's offered first looks into the film's augmented reality.

The licensing team at Fox needed to grab shelf space for a line that didn't have a proven franchise behind it at a time when retailers were keeping inventories low and consumers were watching every penny. Licensed merchandise began appearing at retail in October and November in four key categories.

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"I have been in the business long enough to know that releasing a film Dec. 18 can be a problem, but I think when all our key licensees and retailers saw the scope of what this product was about—the fact that there was an aspirational component from the film and a very important part of the product strategy was to create innovation and technology in all aspects of it—that really won the point over," says Robert Marick, executive vice president of licensing and merchandising at Twentieth Century Fox.

In the two months prior to the movie's release, the studio launched a merchandising campaign that introduced more than 125 products streamlined into four categories through big-box retailers including Walmart, Target, Toys"R"Us, Kmart and Sears.

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"Part of our strategy was to be very focused, we certainly had the opportunity to launch a broad spectrum of categories, but we chose to go with the key influential categories of video games, toys, apparel and publishing. Not only are those categories leaders in the consumer goods area, but they allowed us the flexibility to focus a deep line that retailers would embrace. That strategy seems to have paid off," says Marick.

Video games from Ubisoft incorporate intuitive CGI to depict Avatar characters and worlds in photorealistic 3-D imagery. A line of toys from Mattel utilizes augmented reality technology, a first for a retail toy product. Each action figure, vehicle and creature comes with a 3-D Web tag, called an i-Tag, which consumers can "scan" on a home computer webcam. The tag offers content unique to the corresponding product. The deluxe i-Tag produces an animated 3-D model and two i-Tags from the "Battle Pack" can interact with each other.

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Jem Sportswear and Awake are on board for T-shirts, sweatshirts and fashion tops for young men and older boys, featuring imagery and creatures from the film. HarperCollins Children's Books has rolled out a selection of books, including a scrapbook and a history of Pandora, an alien world that features prominently in the film.

Other licensees include Sideshow Collectibles for statues, maquettes, life-sized busts and dioramas; Gentle Giant Studios and The Noble Collection for collectibles; Accessory Innovations for backpacks and bags; and Abrams for a book, called "The Art of Avatar: James Cameron's Epic Adventure," with a foreward by Peter Jackson and an epilogue by James Cameron.

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Marick could not stress enough the goal of adding a technological "wow" factor wherever possible in the new product lines.

"It was very important to me when working with licensees to create compelling product that extends the experience home. We wanted to ensure that something unique and different is incorporated in everything we do, whether it's the technology in toys, incorporating new material and designs and glow-in-the-dark features in terms of apparel or ensuring the video games on the new generation format had 3-D capabilities. I think we looked at other categories, but based on timing and where we could extend that technology it just wasn't there and we didn't want to make it cookie cutter," says Marick.

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It was too early at press time for solid sales figures but, according to Marick, the augmented reality technology has been well received by consumers.

"In its simplest form it provided added value that has not been seen on product before and with this cost-conscious consumer when the word was out that it was more than just an action figure, but that there were other Avatar worlds to explore through the i-Tag we saw tremendous response. From a pure collector perspective, it provided info and content that was not available before and presented it in a very unique way. We were really able to check off all the boxes from value, to collectability to delivery of content," says Marick.

For news on when the next Avatar will come out go to James Cameron, Marick laughs, but the licensing team at Fox is ready with new product—both refreshed merchandise in existing categories and ready to break into new categories.

Updated and expanded toys, apparel, video games and publishing product will roll out in the spring. New categories that are already in the works for fall are construction role play; home, bedding and décor; Halloween costumes; social expressions; and party goods. Looking at 2011 and beyond, games, hand-held games, stationery and novelties will be introduced.

The film will play in theaters for much longer than usual which will keep the momentum going for the spring selling season. A DVD Blu-ray launch also plays well for merchandise sales.

"Our goal is to create an ongoing Avatar franchise and be very careful and thoughtful that we don't over-exploit the brand and manage this long-term opportunity. We want to instill newness and freshness and want people in the coming seasons and years to explore the different worlds of merchandise," says Marick.

Retailers were cautious for the first run of products when it came to investing shelf space and inventory. Now with an official blockbuster under its belt Fox and Marick are having conversations about how to merchandise the next wave of product in stores and offer retailer exclusives. While no deals are yet final, "We have laid that groundwork and are now solidifying it," he says.

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