Why Star Wars: The Force Awakens won't beat Avatar at the box office

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Dec 17, 2018, 5:00 PM EST (Updated)

It's pretty much official at this point: Despite an incredible run in theaters, Star Wars: The Force Awakens will not overtake Avatar to become the all-time worldwide box-office champ.

In fact, James Cameron probably doesn't have to worry about losing either of the top two spots -- the $1.95 billion made globally by the seventh Star Wars film so far still lags behind the $2.19 billion made by his Titanic at number two and the staggering $2.8 billion haul of Avatar at number one, according to The Wrap.

Now, the U.S. is a different story: The Force Awakens has become the all-time box-office champ here, with $882 million in the bank and counting, and it shattered all kinds of other records on its way to the top. It also handily beat Avatar in the U.K., blowing past that movie's $150 million gross with $173 million to date.

But the full story ultimately comes down to a wide range of other foreign markets, where the saga of the Skywalker clan didn't grab audiences as much as that of the Na'vi. In fact, Avatar was never threatened by Star Wars in countries like Spain, France, Germany, Russia, Japan and South Korea. 

In China -- the last major market in which it opened, and a country seen as key to its chances to overtake Avatar -- The Force Awakens has made a healthy $114 million in just two weeks but probably won't overtake either Avatar ($204 million) or Furious 7 ($392 million). Nearly 73 percent of Avatar's total earnings came from overseas, compared to around 45 percent for The Force Awakens. So why the disparity? Box-office analysts point to three reasons.

First, Star Wars seems to be perceived as uniquely American (despite having plenty of Brits in lead roles over the years), which can work against it in certain territories. That goes all the way back to the 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan proposed launching the "Star Wars" missile defense system against the Soviet Union -- which he called the "Evil Empire."

Second, the strength of the American dollar at the moment has caused ticket prices to fall in relative terms around the world, with estimates suggesting that the movie missed out on as much as $400 million globally.

And finally, Avatar was marketed and seen as a pioneering event in the history of movies thanks to its massive leap forward in 3D technology. Jeff Bock of Exhibitor Relations said, "Avatar represented a groundbreaking achievement that all but forced people around the globe to go see it. The 3D in Avatar was something never before seen.”

Look, no one over at Disney or Lucasfilm is losing any sleep over this. Sure, it would be nice to be crowned box-office emperor, but nearly $2 billion in worldwide earnings, a record-breaking performance at home and the resurgence of a franchise that at one point seemed like it was all but finished on the big screen -- not to mention that it's a damn good movie -- is plenty to be proud of.

And besides, Episode VIII will get its chance to do it all over again in less than two years ...

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