A few questions, before we begin.
1. Can you name a character from Avatar ?
2. What about a quote from the film ?
3. When was the last time you saw someone cosplay as an Avatar character ?
My personal answers to these questions are, nope , nope and never. Yours will be very similar I imagine. I will be exploring James Cameron's 2009 'epic' Avatar and why it isn't so 'epic' in hindsight.
Firstly, here is the trailer for the film, because there is a high chance you haven't seen or thought about it since you and your buddies went and saw it in the cinema 6 years ago.
Do not get me wrong, Avatar is a good movie, groundbreaking in terms of motion capture and computer generated graphics, but not so groundbreaking in everything else.
As of now, the film stands as the highest grossing film of all time with over 2 billion dollars in World Wide box office. it has a 7.9 /10 on IMDB and an 83/100 on Rotten Tomatoes, safe to say that the film was well received. Which makes it so interesting. How can the highest grossing films of all time struggle to retain its place in people's memories even after it was so well received and everyone and their mothers went and saw it. It all has to do with sequels, prequels and cinematic universes.
It was an original idea
Unlike everything else that Hollywood was and is churning out at the moment, Avatar was an entirely original idea, no comic, no book, no television series, no movie it was based off. It is 100 % an original idea (with some borrowed ideas as in every film). It is a complete 3 act, no cliffhanger, no set up for sequel film. Avatar wasn't a franchise or a brand, it was a complete film. Something that it deserves credit for, sadly that this great aspect was its demise.
It not being a franchise or brand resulted in marketing and tie in products a challenge, a completely new product or character is remarkably difficult to sell hence the lack of Avatar action figures or kids costumes. For example, a Star Wars character is appealing to a child because it is recognizable because they have seen it somewhere during their life, a tall blue man ? No they haven't seen any blue men like that ever, unless their parents are way into the Blue Man group in which they would have been very disappointed with the film.
Another aspect to the films downfall lies in its characters. If I were to ask any random stranger or you the reader, you would easily be able to name a character from Star Wars or Jurassic Park because there is multiple movies in those stories where we get to expose and flesh out the characters. The characters in those films are given a longer time period to grow and become full characters. In Avatar, the main character Sully? It's Sully I think. I can't remember his name. Sully is given 2 hours to grow and overcome the challenges he is tasked, which makes it increasingly difficult to quote or sell the character to the audiences.
How exactly do you market a blockbuster that no one knows nothing about? Avatar showed the first 15 minutes in IMAX but this couldn't be done for every curious cinema goer. Miraculously the film succeeded, but this lack of smart marketing resulted in it being forgotten quickly.
How is it going to recover ?
In the next 10 years Cameron has a whole bunch of Avatar sequels planned. It will be very interesting to see how these play out because, while it may have established itself as a franchise, it is a franchise that was established long ago, and now there is a different generation it needs to set up for. This problem was caused because it took too damn long to write the next bunch of movies now with Avatar being pushed back EVEN MORE , it has only created more of a hurdle for itself. There is no possible way the sequel will replicate the success of the first, which is arguably a fluke.
Sure the film does have negative aspects, but it's a groundbreaking spectacle, a spectacle that has sadly been forgotten. Its victories were its own demise at times and it is going to be one hell of an uphill battle to sell the next few sequels. It is already an up hill battle to get people to remember the first one.