Avatar rejuvenates Columbus box offices

“Avatar” continues to rewrite record books and Columbus-area cinemas are reaping the benefits.

Due to inflated ticket prices and the additional costs of 3-D and IMAX tickets, “Avatar” is bringing big business to movie theaters. According to BoxOfficeMojo.com, James Cameron’s sci-fi smash has grossed over $1.6 billion as of Jan. 18, second only to Cameron’s 1998 hit “Titanic” on the all-time worldwide chart.

“About 75 percent of its gross has been strictly from 3-D theaters,” said Drake Whitacre, manager at Movie Tavern 12 Mill Run in Hilliard.

Most cinemas add an additional charge to the price of a ticket for 3-D, usually to cover the cost of the 3-D glasses. At Movie Tavern and Starplex Cinemas, the fee is $2. Despite the fee and a weak economy, Joe Strausser, manager of Rave Motion Pictures 18 at Polaris, said sales are still strong.

“The 3-D tends to sell more tickets than the 2-D version,” Strausser said.

The winter months tend to be barren for the box office as December is usually set aside by studios for award-season fare while big-budget blockbusters are typically relegated to the summer months. Though “Avatar” continues to rewrite box office records, it’s proven to be a critic’s darling as well, earning an 82 percent on RottenTomatoes.com as well as taking home the crown for Best Drama at Sunday’s Golden Globes.

“Usually around Christmas time [the studios] try to put good movies out,” said manager Jeri Hull of Starplex Cinemas on Westpointe Plaza Drive. “This winter is no different.”

“Avatar” has bolstered winter sales and led the charge in making last month the highest-grossing December ever at the box office, garnering nearly $1.1 billion in revenue, streaking past the December 2007 record of $993 million.

“A lot of people have been coming to see [‘Avatar’] and they’ve come back to see something else,” Strausser said. “This winter is going pretty well.”

To keep up with “Avatar” demand, Movie Tavern is dumping “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” off one of its screens, a film that Box Office Mojo says has earned $354 million to date.

“We will have ‘Avatar’ back on two full screens,” Whitacre said. “Adding two more shows in the morning time and one in the evening will definitely help it out.”

Even a month after its release, “Avatar” sales are going strong, displaying a replay value that could give the film a chance to topple the reign of “Titanic” as king of the box office. As it stands, “Avatar” has grossed $505 million in North America through 32 days of release, $263 million ahead of where “Titanic” was at the same point, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com.

The difference for “Avatar” is that “Titanic” sat at the No. 1 spot in North America for an unprecedented 15 weeks. “Avatar” has only been there for five.

Jeff Bock, box-office analyst for Exhibitor Relations Co., said “Titanic” will be downed by the end of January.

“James Cameron will surely sink his own ship with ‘Avatar,’” Bock said in an e-mail. “Cameron is not only the king of the world, but the emperor of the third dimension … a title he won’t relinquish any time soon.”

[This story ran online for The Lantern on Jan. 22, 2010. Click here.]

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