AvatarAs you total up your bills for the holidays, wrap your head around this figure: $2.8 billion. That's how much money James Cameron's 'Avatar' has grossed in worldwide box office receipts. It doesn't include receipts for the basic, non-collector's edition on DVD and Blu-ray, released in April, which broke sales records, nor for the recent "Extended Collector's Edition." Nor does it include video on demand sales, which one might assume would also be record-breaking. Yet the film barely placed in the top 10 for 2010 list just announced by Comcast, the largest cable operator in the United States.

Variety notes that 'The Blind Side,' which earned only about 1/3 of what 'Avatar' did in domestic box office, ended up the #1 title on Comcast's "top-performing" list, with 'Couples Retreat,' 'The Twilight Saga: New Moon,' 'Hot Tub Time Machine' and 'The Hurt Locker' rounding out the top five. In their statement, Comcast pushes the party line: "Movies available the same day as DVD release are consistently among the top-performing content On Demand," and Variety agrees, pointing out that 'Avatar' was the only on demand title not available day-and-date with the DVD. Yet there's also some indication that audiences favor video on demand services to catch up with titles that they missed in theaters.

'Avatar,' for example, was a title that everyone insisted must be seen in a theater in 3D. It became the event movie of the year. Folks who loved it couldn't wait to own it, even in a stripped-down edition, which explains the broken sales records for DVD and Blu-ray. If the film had been made available via video on demand day-and-date with the first wave of DVD and Blu-ray releases, maybe it would have broken records there too. Or maybe there weren't that many people left who hadn't already seen it. Or maybe it was all those people who downloaded the film illegally, making 'Avatar' the most pirated film of the year.

Despite its ready-made comedic premise, 'Hot Tub Time Machine' somewhat under-performed at the box office, earning $50 million in domestic box office grosses; certainly not a disaster, but not the blockbuster that some expected. Video on demand provided the perfect opportunity to catch up.

To an even greater extent, 'The Hurt Locker' benefited from "want to see" curiosity after it won the Academy Award for Best Picture over 'Avatar' (and 'The Blind Side,' among others). The film grossed just $16 million domestically, but its subject matter probably made more people inclined to rent it via video on demand, rather than run out and buy a Blu-ray. Thus, its surge to the top five over other bigger-grossing movies.

Do you rent movies via video on demand services? If so, how often? How do you decide what to rent? Are they repeat viewings for you, or do you mostly use the service to catch up with movies you missed in theaters?
PG-13 2009
Based on 35 critics

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categories Movies, Cinematical