Long-rumored for a China re-release, James Cameron’s Avatar suddenly popped onto the calendar this week. The erstwhile highest-grossing film of all time worldwide will hit Middle Kingdom cinemas on Friday, March 12. In so doing, it has a chance to jockey back up to the No. 1 spot globally, after Avengers: Endgame overtook it in summer 2019. There is currently $7.8M separating the two based on trued-up numbers (including re-releases, Avengers: Endgame’s global total is $2,797.5M/Avatar’s is $2,789.7M).
Disney now owns both properties, so whichever way the pendulum swings, it’s bragging rights for both.
After a record-breaking Chinese New Year period and the single highest-grossing month in history for what is now the world’s biggest box office market, China has a relative lack of major new local titles ahead. Special Couple, a China/UK co-production that premiered at the 2019 Shanghai Film Festival, is also releasing on Friday and then there’s not much else in the way of big-ticket offerings until Warner Bros/Legendary’s Godzilla Vs Kong which is dated on March 26.
Avatar was originally released in China in early 2010 and grossed nearly $203M at the time — a massive number before the market began to grow exponentially. Its full China total (after a previous special edition release) is just over $204M. Currently, the reissue, which will go out on most of the IMAX network and in 3D (formats that are embraced in China) is leading pre-sales for the FSS weekend with more than $5.5M.
In 2020, reissues of studio blockbuster library titles were a way for China to kickstart moviegoing post-lockdown. They included such films as Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and Inception as well as the first Harry Potter film, Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone. That latter release resulted in the boy wizard’s original 2001 movie crossing the $1B worldwide mark.