The Rerelease of ‘Titanic’ Makes ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ Look Small

James Cameron's new film is a massive hit — but "Titanic" sold about three times as many tickets.
TITANIC, from left: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, 1997. ph: Merie W. Wallace / TM and Copyright © 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved. Courtesy: Everett Collection.
©20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection

James Cameron’s “Titanic” could lead the box office a quarter-century after its release. A reissue hasn’t dominated the weekend since 1997, when special editions of the first three “Star Wars” films each achieved #1, but this outing is something of a layup: With the Super Bowl on Sunday, it may only take $10 million to reach the top.

Two other titles could also contend for the top spot, with the second weekend of “80 for Brady” (like “Titanic,” also Paramount) and the opening weekend for “Magic Mike’s Last Dance”(Warner Bros. Discovery).

The rebirth of “Titanic” is a good time to reconsider the ongoing reign of Cameron’s latest film, “Avatar: The Way of Water.” It has a domestic total of $640 million and $2.2 billion worldwide, positioned to reach around $700 million domestic. That’s fantastic by any standard — but with this reissue, “Titanic” might acquire the greater unadjusted total. It currently stands at $659 million; its 2023 run might be worth another $30 million, making it a close race.

Here’s where they’re not close at all: Tickets sold. In 1997-1998, the average ticket price was around $4.69. Today, an average ticket costs at least 2.5 times more — and in the case of “The Way of Water,” that average is likely higher due to premium-theater screenings. That means perhaps three times as many people in the U.S./Canada saw “Titanic” in theaters (before the reissue) than “The Way of Water.”

(L-R): Lo’ak (Britain Dalton) and a Tulkun in 20th Century Studios' AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
“Avatar: The Way of Water”Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

Further comparisons show that the performance of “Titanic” is one that Hollywood will never see again from any film — not even Cameron’s.

“Titanic” was #1 for 15 weeks, a feat no other film has done before or since. “The Way of Water” is entering its ninth weekend and will gross under $10 million. In unadjusted grosses, “Titanic” took in $28 million in its ninth weekend — $70 million in today’s dollars.

Among 1997 releases, “Titanic” grossed 250 percent more domestically than the #2 release; the gap was even bigger internationally. “The Way of Water” now looks like it will be 2022’s #2 domestic release (and #1 worldwide, about 60 percent ahead of “Top Gun: Maverick”).

Most of all — 25 years later, despite previous reissues, massive video, DVD, Blu-Ray, non-stop syndicated TV and cable showings —  “Titanic” will still find a theatrical audience.

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