This last weekend, one of pop culture’s biggest and most ambitious tales came to a head in Avengers: Endgame. Heroes lived, heroes died, heroes fought and won. And that movie has a real chance at ousting James Cameron’s Avatar from its spot atop the list of highest-grossing movies of all time, which it has held onto for just a hair under 10 years. While we often cover box office results here at The Nerdy, it’s not often that I think whether a movie profits or beats another movie is a “good” or “bad” thing. I think Avengers beating out Avatar is great, though.
Avatar was a very specific kind of movie. Watching it now, it doesn’t hold up. It’s not a very good movie and, without the advent of the admittedly-impressive use of 3D, it’s a pretty empty movie. Ask anyone but committed fans of the film to name a character, and you’ll mostly get blank stares. In short, no one remembers what Avatar was about in anything other than the blurriest of snapshot images. I had to look up Na’vi to remember where the apostrophe goes. Avatar was a thrill-ride of a movie and little more. It was exciting to watch at the time thanks to Cameron’s commitment to cutting-edge tech, but its cultural imprint has been minimal.
On the other hand, we have Avengers: Endgame poised to take its place. Endgame is the culmination of 21 movies across 11 years – Iron Man debuted a year and a half before Avatar – that have been a constant part of the popular consciousness since Iron Man hit. In that time, people have come to love characters like Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Black Panther, and more both on their own and as part of the greater MCU tapestry. I told some not-at-all comic-book-y coworkers that I was ‘spending my Saturday with my good friends Captain America and Iron Man,” and instead of laughing at me like 80s teen movies taught me would happen, it turned into a discussion of when everyone was going to get out and see the movies and the complexities of seeing a 3-hour movie when you have to put your children somewhere – or getting your kid into the movie before Monday so that he can see the movie and not get spoiled on as he sets foot on the bus.
I’m pitting these two against each other because, for years, we here at The Nerdy have been watching these charts, amazed by how many Marvel movies are in the top 10 and amazed even more by how Avatar continues to hold its spot. In the end, Avatar amounts to little more than an amusement-park ride. It’s like if we sat here wondering when Game of Thrones would finally surpass According to Jim season 7 in ratings.
It’s frustrating to look at the things we spend our money on for entertainment and realize that not only here in America did we dump way too much money into Avatar, but we exported it worldwide and the world did, too.
I don’t want to spend the whole time dumping on the Blue Man Group, though. Mostly I just want to establish that, despite being the highest-grossing movie of all time internationally and in the top 5 domestically, it’s an incredibly forgettable movie that thrived on the eyeballs brought in by its tech, not its story.
What I want to focus on is how Avengers: Endgame is more than the sum of its parts. It’s the realization of over a decade of work and 22 completed films including Endgame that takes characters that have been part of the American consciousness for nearly 80 years and brings them to the biggest audience they’ve ever received.
It feels right to me that our biggest movie domestically and internationally be something that has stuck with not only stuck with us through the years but transformed and adjusted with the times – not something that is the result of fad technology filled with characters and concepts we can hardly name less than 10 years later.
Marvel characters (and DC) play on our worst fears and biggest fantasies. Iron Man is the idea of ingenuity winning out over our flaws. Captain America is the ultimate symbol of truth and protection. Spider-Man is the idea that one guy can – and should – make a difference. Even after all these years, these characters stand for the core ideas that Stan Lee and Co. imbued them with so long ago, and now those ideas are resonating with audiences enough to put Marvel movies into the top charts over and over again.
I’d love to see this accomplishment enshrined with a chart-topping record.