“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Avatar- The Four Hundred and Fifty Million Dollar Movie

'Avatar' Seeks Out a Mega-Audience
Market Research Shows Mixed Levels of Interest Among Potential Ticket-Buyers for the 3-D Movie


Market research suggests mixed levels of interest among potential audiences for the extravagant 3-D sci-fi picture "Avatar," raising the stakes for the backers of one of the most expensive movies ever made.

Twentieth Century Fox says it is counting on strong word-of-mouth and positive reviews from critics to recoup its investment in the movie, which hits theaters next Friday.

The James Cameron film, which uses pioneering 3-D technology and computer graphics, is one of the most highly anticipated releases to come out of Hollywood in years.

'Avatar,' a 3-D extravanza directed by James Cameron (left) is estimated to have cost more than $300 million to make. Another $150 million is being spent on marketing the sci-fi picture.

But production costs on "Avatar," which traces the journey of a paraplegic soldier who leaves Earth for the magical planet Pandora, are likely to exceed $300 million. Two of Fox's financial partners covered 60% of the film's production costs, but, on top of that, Fox is spending around $150 million more on marketing the movie globally. Fox Co-Chairman Jim Gianopulos this week told CNN the movie "is the most expensive we've made."

That means that the movie has to be nothing short of a mega-blockbuster in order to make its money back. As a result, there's hyperfocus on the latest advance research, or "tracking" of potential audiences.

Nielsen Co.'s tracking data, which are closely watched in the industry, indicate that "Avatar" is hewing closely to patterns established by films such as "I Am Legend," the sci-fi horror movie starring Will Smith that Warner Bros. released in December 2007. That film grossed $77.2 million its opening weekend and went on to make more than $250 million at the domestic box office.

While male audiences are showing increased interest and awareness in "Avatar," according to the data, female moviegoers are less enthusiastic, with negative attitudes toward the film growing among women under 25.

One distinct bright spot for "Avatar" is that many key metrics—including "unaided awareness" of the movie—have improved as the movie's release date approaches.

Studio executives consider such positive momentum at least as important as the underlying results.

Studios use tracking research, which polls domestic audiences on their awareness of and interest in seeing yet-to-be-released movies, in order gauge the effectiveness of marketing efforts. The data can be helpful in forecasting a given movie's opening weekend performance. But predicting a movie's ultimate box office total is much more difficult.

If a film generates strong word-of-mouth buzz and positive reviews from critics, it can often outperform early estimates. That is what Fox is banking on in the case of "Avatar" to drive attendance over the holiday season.

"Our goal was never to have the hugest opening weekend ever, because it's a different kind of movie than that," said Pamela Levine, co-president of domestic marketing at Fox. "The goal was to start spreading the word."

Twentieth Century Fox is owned by News Corp., which also owns The Wall Street Journal.

In some areas, the Nielsen research, which was reviewed by The Journal, shows "Avatar" coming in below similar sci-fi action movies. For instance, roughly a week before release, the data show audiences are demonstrating slightly less "definite interest" in the film than they did at the same point with "Iron Man," which grossed nearly $100 million opening weekend and more than $300 million at the domestic box office.

"Avatar" is currently scoring slightly behind 2007's "Transformers" in the crucial "unaided awareness" category. "Transformers" took in $70 million on its opening weekend.

In comparison, tracking data for the movie "2012," released last month, showed strong interest among both women and men. That film went on to gross $150 million domestically and more than three times that internationally.

"Tracking is light for a title of this magnitude," says Jeff Bock, a box-office analyst at Exhibitor Relations, referring to "Avatar."

That said, Mr. Bock adds, "If the reviews are good, that will help encourage older audiences that aren't quite sold on 3-D yet.... Then you can get that older demographic to see the film, that's what Fox and Jim Cameron need to make this a hit across the board."

In the first U.S. review of "Avatar," posted online Thursday evening, the Hollywood Reporter raved about the film, predicting "Fox will see more than enough grosses world-wide to cover its bet on Cameron."

Write to Lauren A. E. Schuker at and Ethan Smith at


  1. Two hours and forty minutes wearing those glasses? The reviews would have to be pretty good first.



  2. Yea

    I have gone and stayed.


    I have swayed out on the wildest wave alive, and yet am still.

    Yea, I have gone far away, and yet remain.


    I have touched the hand of a goddess
    I have touched the skin of a goddess
    And have not died.

    I have conversed with a goddess, spoken with a goddess, such speaking is not easy.

    I have shaken the hand of the luckiest man in America, a shy, soft spoken man.

    I have two signed books and


    Two T-shirts too

    It was worth it.

    Talked to a fellow from Montana, and his kids for a long while, waiting in line, from south of Missoula, he'd come 240 miles. Talked about the wolf problem in his area. Nice fellow.

    If she is preggers, she didn't show it. What a nice looking young coouple they are!

    Sold out turn out in Sandpoint. Sandpoint is a lot like what Coeur d'Alene used to be.

  3. Sarah's The One

    Really nice group of people at the book signing I attended. Good cheer all around, even in 8 degree weather.

    I noticed some of the older women, tough as nails, not even a scarf on their heads. Then inside, stood for three straight hours, not a hint of discomfort.

  4. Sarah Palin has a lovely big sweeping signature, legible, but with an odd marking between the
    Sarah and the Palin, a little like the Christian fish symbol you see on car bumpers once in a while. Not sure if it's that though, not sure what it is, but it's there on both books.

    Sandpoint was the last stop on the book tour, I blieve. She's earned a rest.

  5. Congratulations, Bob. Glad you made it.

  6. I'll pass. When they don't allow anyone to see the finished product for reviews until the day it opens that means it's a stinker.

  7. A stinker? Sweetheart, there are tons of reviews out now(just got to RottenTomatoes), even at the time of your writing. Pay attention...

    And the vast majority of them are positive.

    You're on the internet...use it!