James Cameron's Avatar: The Way Of Water Supplants James Cameron's Titanic As Third-Highest Grossing Movie Ever

Oh how the mighty have fallen! Once the king of Hollywood, "Titanic" director James Cameron has now seen his 1997 romantic tragedy overtaken on the all-time box office rankings by "Avatar: The Way of Water," a flashy sci-fi sequel from a young upstart filmmaker called James Cameron. Variety reports that "The Way of Water" is now the third-highest grossing movie of all time, having grossed $2.2433 billion at the worldwide box office. 

This act of Cameron-on-Cameron violence concludes a direct battle between the two movies at the box office, with "Titanic" returning to theaters freshly remastered in 3D 4K HDR, complete with a higher frame rate in some scenes. However, "Titanic" didn't quite manage to stay ahead in the race, and after tousling with the "Avatar" sequel for a couple of weekends it has now dropped down to No. 4 on the all-time chart. According to Box Office Pro, "Avatar: The Way of Water" will add an estimated $7.49 million over the Presidents' Day weekend (which is its 10th weekend in theaters) while "Titanic" is looking at a more modest four-day weekend gross of $2.72 million 

"Avatar: The Way of Water" is likely to remain at No. 3 for the time being, since second place is half a billion dollars away: it's currently held by "Avengers: Endgame" with a lifetime gross of $2.799 billion. Meanwhile, the No. 1 spot belongs to "Avatar," a 2009 science fiction film from a director affectionately known as "Jimmy C."

Titanic, 25 years later

In the lead-up to the rerelease of "Titanic," there was a distinct possibility that it might be able to stay ahead of "Avatar: The Way of Water" in the all-time rankings. The movie was first converted to 3D for the 2012 rerelease, which actually benefited from the 3D hype created by "Avatar" a few years earlier. The 3D release of "Titanic" was an astonishing success, adding $350 million to its worldwide lifetime gross.

The receipts for the 25th anniversary rerelease are not to be sniffed at. Just over a week after it returned to theaters, it has already expanded its gross by $48 million worldwide. It's particularly benefiting from the emphasis on premium formats; since 3D and IMAX movie tickets are more expensive, studios can make more money from a smaller number of ticket sales. However, there's a downside to this for cinephiles (myself included) who feel that 3D and HFR conversions for "Titanic" are gilding the lily, and would prefer to see the movie the same way it appeared on big screens back in 1997. Though the rerelease included both 2D and 3D prints, the reality is that it's pretty difficult to find 2D showings. 

It's hard to say how much the lack of 2D availability has impacted the box office for "Titanic" in this latest rerelease. However, it should be noted that even in the case of "Avatar: The Way of Water," which was marketed as the ultimate 3D IMAX experience, 38% of ticket sales on opening weekend were for standard 2D showings (per Deadline). Perhaps I'm not alone in being old-fashioned.