Avatar Sells… But Who’s Buying?

On April 22, 2010, the highest grossing movie of all time was released on DVD, Blu-ray, and on a few video on demand services.  It’s too early to tell right now, but it’s almost certain that ‘Avatar’ sold like crazy.  But who is it that’s really going out to buy it?

I’ll admit I’m not a big fan of the movie.  It’s not the predictable plot, because I think that’s an unfair criticism.  Was the plot of ‘Titanic’ a huge surprise?  Did we expect Luke Skywalker to lose at the end of the ‘Star Wars’ trilogy?  For that matter, are the countless reproductions of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ any less interesting because we already know what’s going to happen?

The problem with the movie, for me, was that it didn’t feel like a movie.  It felt like an event, or a ride.  It was something to go and experience.  Compare it to something like Star Tours, the ‘Star Wars’ themed ride at Disney’s MGM park.  It’s cheesy, the acting is pretty bad and, as a movie, it just wouldn’t work.

But it’s not a movie, it’s a ride, and it delivered on providing me with exactly what I expected – a few minutes of ‘Star Wars’ themed fun.  And to that end, ‘Avatar’ did what it was supposed to.  I got to see cutting edge 3-D and plenty of neat alien landscapes.  I’m not going to complain about the writing in Star Tours or the acting in ‘Captain EO,’ and so there’s no reason to complain about those things in ‘Avatar.’

If the comparison seems demeaning, think about all the press surrounding the film’s release.  ‘Avatar’ was marketed as an experience, not a movie.  James Cameron may have talked about the world and the characters, but what really fascinated people was the 3-D experience.  It worked too; over 70 percent of the film’s opening weekend gross was from 3-D ticket sales.

But that makes me think.  It’s clear that the main reason to see ‘Avatar’ in theaters or at all was the 3-D experience, but you’re not going to get that with the Blu-ray that’s out now.  You won’t get that same immersion, and it won’t be an event.  ‘Avatar’ on Blu-ray will just be a movie, but that’s not much draw.

So who are the people buying ‘Avatar’ right now?  It’s not 3-D enthusiasts, though it will be when the 3-D version finally comes out.  It’s probably not film buffs, because they’ll wait for the special edition, just like they did for the ‘Lord of the Rings’ DVDs. They don’t want a disc without special features.

And I really doubt it’s the same crowd that went to see the movie because it was an event.  Seeing ‘Avatar’ on the big screen in 3-D and seeing it at home are two very different experiences.

It seems like the only people that should really be rushing out to pick up the ‘Avatar’ Blu-ray are those that need something to show off their home theater system, and those that really and truly enjoyed the film.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Blu-ray and DVD sales come in at lower numbers than for comparable films over the course of its lifespan.  Then again, when the numbers come in I may be forced to eat my words.


  1. “It’s probably not film buffs, because they’ll wait for the special edition, just like they did for the ‘Lord of the Rings’ DVDs.”

    I tend to disagree with this statement as the cuts on the two editions of LOTR will differ greatly whereas the two editions of Avatar contain the same movie. On the main site you posted an interview with Jon Landau that states the following:

    HDD: So technically is this the most perfect Blu-ray yet?
    JL: This is, technically, the best version that we can possibly present, both Blu-ray and DVD.

    If anything, “film buffs” should be seeking out this copy for its more accurate representation of the movie since the later special edition will likely attempt to include something else on the main disc. Now this isn’t to say that they won’t purchase the SE for its extra features but the videophile deep within will know it’s (likely) a lower bitrate encode.

  2. Rob

    Who’s buying?

    Kids. 15-25. Who loved the story world.

    They might make up only 10%-20% of the people who saw it in the theater, but that would explain 6-12 million dvd/blu-rays sold.

    When I was 18, I saw Jurassic Park in theaters 11 times. Bought it on vhs. Bought it on dvd twice. And I’ll buy it again on blu-ray.

    I’m older now, 33, so Avatar didn’t hook me probably the way it could have were I 18 today.

    I don’t buy movies any more. I just rent the blu-rays from Netflix. So I probably won’t get to see Avatar for, like, 4 months.

    • Dick Ward

      I think you’re absolutely correct about the demographic, but it kills me to compare ‘Jurassic Park’ to ‘Avatar.’ I was, and still am, obsessed with the book and the movie from 6th grade onward. Not the sequels though, I just pretend they didn’t happen.

      There’s something about Spielberg, islands and real life monsters (as opposed to made up ones, like dragons) that just works.

      • rob

        I wouldn’t compare ‘Jurassic Park’ to ‘Avatar’ in terms of craftsmanship. Perhaps it’s more accurate to compare ‘Avatar’ to ‘Twilight.’

        But I’m not “green.” And I don’t need to watch “poser romance.” I’ve never been a Spielberg fan. But I bet at least 5% of the kids who saw ‘Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull’ snatched up the dvd/blu-ray because they genuinely loved it.

        Roger Ebert gave 3 Stars to ‘Tomb Raider’ because he likes breasts. I bought ‘The Dreamers’ on dvd, 100% for Eva Green. We all have different definitions of “quality.”

        The idea that ‘Avatar’ would make three billion dollars in theaters and then no one would buy the blu-rays is wishful thinking.

        The real question is how well the new ‘Lord Of The Rings’ blu-rays are selling? Because that would be telling.

  3. tor

    Mmmm, people who loved the movie (which are many as the box office) this bashing of AVATAR is getting repetitive and old.

    • Dick Ward

      Oh come now, the box office numbers don’t equate to love of the film. I’m responsible for $13 of those dollars and I sure didn’t love it!

      • Yeah but the fact that it remained #1 week and week is proof a lot of people loved it. Or at least it was good enough for people (i’m sure advertisement hype helped too), to recommend to friends and family. Otherwise if the movie was a pure stinker, basically the movie will make tons of money in the first one to two weeks it’s out. Then everyone starts everyone how much the movie sucks, and everyone else who usually doesn’t watch movies (or waits for the hype to die down) skips out. Movies like Transformers 2.

        However, Avatar remained on top for at least what a month or two? which is pretty impressive of ANY movie this day in age. Not to mention I think it was still in theaters near me until about 3 weeks before the DVD/BDs got released. Meaning people were still buying tickets to see it in theaters up until then. Heck even my fiancee (who isn’t really big into movies) wanted to see it before it left theaters. That’s crazy.

        I didn’t think the story was great, but I loved the animation. And the movie itself was entertaining. So It was worth my movie ticket money and buy on BD.


        • Dick Ward

          The fact that it remained #1 is proof that a lot of people saw it, not loved it. I saw it the fourth week it was out, my dad saw it two months in. We didn’t love it, but we did pay to see it. Not because we heard it was good, mind you, but because it was an event. “The first 3-D movie of its kind!”

          Sales don’t equate to quality. There’s just no getting around it.

          • I know a lot of people who went to theaters twice some even three times to watch it. And a few of them are people who don’t even go to watch movies at all in theaters. I think it’s safe to assume they loved it. No one (in their right mind) is going to argue Avatar is some film that should have won an Academy Award for Best Film. But saying the box office results is not some proof that a lot of people loved the film, is just silly.

            Again…if no one loved (at least some parts of the film) no one would’ve recommended it to so many others to watch it. it’s future recommendations that keep the film #1 for so long. Yes there is hype, but again hype only brings you so far. Like I wrote earlier, if no one loved the film, it’ll stay number 1 for maybe 2 weeks, after that…word gets out that NO ONE loves the film and no one else watches it. and then the movie falls off the charts.

            But if people keep going around saying “man watch this movie it’s awesome…I LOVED it”..then people go hmm..maybe I should go watch it. and people continue going keeping it at number 1.


  4. MadFlanders

    I bought it to show off my home theater 🙂 and guess what, all my friends where blown away by the picture quality. I have a 95″ pj screen and a sony vpl-hw10 projector and around 200 blu-rays but this is by far the most crisp and detailed image available on the format so far. So the ride you got from seeing it in theaters still exists at home, but on another level. That said, it was certainly worth buying.

  5. Rob

    No, I don’t buy Jurassic Park on LaserDisc. I didn’t know LaserDisc existed until after it was dead. I wasn’t a videophile until Year 3 of dvd.

    But I’ll buy Jurassic Park again when they bring out Ultra High Definition Video. Get some 4k dino action on a 150″ screen.

  6. Bran

    Who’s buying it? My young, hippie-wannabe cousin that puts beads in her hair, smokes tons of the green stuff, plays bongos, thinks we’re all glib, and likes anything with feathers, Indians, and breaking free from oppression; that’s one person buying it.

    It may be dumb, but it’s at least pretty.

    • Your young hippie-wannabe cousin probably bought it on DVD, because a hippie (even wannabe) could care less about Blu Rays (or anything technology).

      As for who’s buying it…ME.

      I’m not sure if I’m a film buff or whatever. But I like movies. I rent probably 3-5 movies a week, and watch a movie in theaters at least once every two weeks. And honestly most movies I enjoy, I just end up buying it when it gets released on BD rather than rent it.

      In Avatar’s case. the story for me was actually just plain, it was entertaining, but again, nothing about the story was that memorable. BUT the surround sound and just CGI creation of the Pandora world was beautiful and looks beautiful on any HDTV using BD technology. Extras are nice and all, but I’m not going to wait 6 months to prevent myself from buying a movie I really want to show off my home theater with just so I can get some extras that I may watch once.

      I could rent the movie, but the thing is, it’s an excellent movie to show off the home theater. I think I’ve already replayed the movie 3 times for friends and family. I’m not going to waste my blockbuster queue and money re-renting the movie over and over again. I mean it’s only $20 on Amazon. Heck even if you did buy it and sold it on half.com later. Think about it this way…you lost $10 in 6 months right? BUT assuming a movie rental runs you around $2-5 each (depending if it’s online or local). As long as you replayed it at least 2 maybe 3 times during the 6 month wait. You got your money’s worth didn’t you?

      So who’s buying it? ME.

  7. I bought it – I did enjoy the film and it is AMAZING on Blu Ray. Really, it is a first rate demo disc.

    I know many people who would not pay to see something like Avatar in a theater but would easily pay $15 to $20 for the DVD or Blu Ray.

    I bet this title also has some very strong sales in the used market. People buy it new and like you did not like the film and sell it off to others who are more than happy to snatch it up for $10 or less.

  8. Jonathan Doan

    I’d say a huge amount of people saw it in the theater simply because everyone else saw it. Many people genuinely loved the film and told everyone they knew to go see it. Many people hated it, but loved the experience (me). Many people saw it simply because it was James Cameron’s next movie, and they would have seen it no matter what the subject matter was. (also me)

    It stayed on top because a.) everyone wanted to see it because all their friends saw it, and no one wanted to be left out. b.) the “experience” was so intense and amazing that many people saw it again. c.) the higher 3D ticket prices put it above all the other movies in terms of box office income, tied to the facts that many people saw it to be part of the crowd.

    It truly is a monumental achievement in terms of scale and grandeur, and experience. What irks me is all the praise they give Cameron while letting his piss-poor script slide. He could easily have let some better writers come in and make it a truly Oscar-worthy contender, but instead he chose to rip off story elements from Dances with Wolves and Pocahontas, etc., and gave the characters almost zero depth. But, since the message is a serious one, and something we should all be concerned about, we’re all of a sudden not allowed to call it for what it truly is. How dare we.