Monday, January 4, 2010

Word of Mouth, The Propellers to Success

James Cameron's Avatar continues to astonish at the box office, grossing an estimated $68.3 million in its third weekend of release, that is only a 10% drop from last weekend which was only a 3% drop from the film's opening weekend. Not only does this keep the film number one at the box office for three weeks now, but it improves its domestic total to an estimated $352 million, putting it in prime position to easily reach $400 million and become the highest grossing film of the year domestically, surpassing Transformers. (On a side note, Avatar just recently passed the $1 billion mark worldwide, making it only the fifth film of all-time to amass such an honor, and it could very easily wind up taking the number two spot of all-time just behind Titanic).

I'll be honest, after I first saw Avatar, I questioned as to how well it would play to the casual audience. The story is very bizarre, kind of out there at times, and you do have to have a pretty hefty imagination to keep up, but these types of numbers at the box office are quailing those thoughts. For the film to be maintaining such strength at the box office, then it can't be attributed to the film's marketing, cause if that's the case the opening weekend would have been far bigger. No, it's because of that mystical power source that is known as, word of mouth.

The film continues to uphold its box office take, week after week, and that rarely happens. While the film opened solidly, it was by no means the runaway success that it has become. Much like last summer's The Dark Knight, Avatar is benefiting from actually being a good film. As more people go to see it, they leave the theaters and tell their friends about it, then those friends see it and tell their friends, and so on and so forth. That is how word of mouth works, and it's the only attribute that could keep Avatar on the radar for this long.

In all actuality, I believed word of mouth to be dead. I thought the days of a film being able to reach success such as this through weeks upon weeks of solid box office, were just like the dinosaur. In recent years, it's become the trend in Hollywood that a film has to make a killing, sometimes at least half of its eventual total gross on opening weekend in order to be qualified as a success and not a failure. We've seen this practice many times, from Spider-man 3 to The Dark Knight to Transformers, it doesn't matter whether the film is good or not, it just matters that it is marketed well and they get butts in those seats opening weekend. Perhaps Avatar bringing back the advent of word of mouth is a good thing.

Word of mouth can only be attributed to a film's quality in and of itself, and while Avatar wasn't my personal favorite film of last year, I still liked it and plan on buying it when it comes out on DVD. What is definitely helping this film is the fact that the only way to truly get the Avatar experience is to see it in theaters, where you can see it in 3-D, so in those regards the marketing is a success, but people wouldn't be going in droves if the story wasn't any good. Maybe the studios will see this success and realize, "Hey, we need to start making more movies, from original stories, and actually make sure that they're good films as well so we can have this type of success!"

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