"The cinema is cruel like a miracle." -Frank O'Hara

Avatar vs. The Hurt Locker


Neytiri (from Avatar) vs. Anthony Mackie (from The Hurt Locker). Who would you rather spend two hours with?

As an occasional mainstream moviegoer, I find the Oscars increasingly irrelevant in shaping my multiplex digressions. The field is predictable; the ceremony is excruciating. Nevertheless, I do think it’s compelling that Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker and James Cameron’s Avatar both lead with nine nominations, because the movies come from opposite ends of the filmmaking spectrum. While the gossipmongers are twittering over the fact that the pair used to be married, I think these two films going head to head could be one indicator of the types of films the big studios will consider worthy investments in the future. Let’s compare the two:


  • Biggest budget in film history (undisclosed amount; estimated at $200 to $500 million. That’s one hell of a range, J.C.)
  • Highest Grossing B.O. ever (but not ticket sales! I find this extremely heartening)
  • CGI spectacle with different tiers of engagement: 2D, 3D, IMAX, etc.
  • Utopian, apolitical sci-fi storyline set in the future
  • Made for merchandising (Teenage boys who read my blog, take note of this and this)


  • $15 million dollar budget, independently financed and produced
  • Respectable B.O. (about $16 million worldwide to date)
  • Character-driven, highly calibrated drama
  • Politically relevant, contemporary storyline about the Iraq War (a subject that has not fared well in movie theaters)
  • Little to no merchandising potential (although I would totally buy an Anthony Mackie action figure)

There’s no question as to which of these films will make more money. But hopefully Hurt Locker’s coup will convince the studios that low-budget films (in the $10 to $20 million dollar range) are worth greenlighting again, and can distinguish themselves in an overcrowded marketplace. Thanks to the sheer number of nominations, The Hurt Locker stands to do well in the aftermarket, and DVD / VOD sales will be strong. Not every film can be Avatar; the studios simply can’t afford to outlay prodigious amounts of capital for each individual production. If anything, the success of The Hurt Locker proves once again that sure-fire blockbusters with commensurately-escalating budgets aren’t the only game in town.

Category: film reviews

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6 Responses

  1. i haven’t seen the hurt locker, so i’ll take your word that it’s politically relevant. avatar is too. first off, as pocahontas buffs have pointed out, it’s a close allegory to the story of the encounter between europeans and native americans (or other “indigenous” peoples). that’s not apolitical just because it happened a while back. secondly, it has a strong environmentalist message. isn’t that political? third, it pits sensitive scientists (chief among them, a sexy older woman) and funny-looking aliens/indians against recognizable corporate assholes, and (spoiler) the tree-hugging good guys win and the capitalist pigs get rounded up and escorted off the planet.

    in star wars, it’s basically just nazis who are the bad guys and who (spoiler) lose at the end. in avatar, it’s basically ordinary americans in that role. that’s arguably a riskier, more provocative conclusion. to me, a revolution is always more political than an ordinary war. and by the way, the oscar ceremony is not excruciating. it is magical. who will katherine bigelow be wearing?

  2. Jack says:

    The differences between Avatar and Hurt Locker reminds me of what Carl Sagan once said about astrology versis astronomy:
    “In contemporary Western society, buying a magazine on astrology – at a newsstand,say – is easy; it is much harder to find one on astronomy. Virtually every newspaper in America has a daily column on astrology; there are hardly any that have even a weekly column on astronomy. There are ten times more astrologers in the United States than astronomers.”

    Basically, I think he’s too harsh on Americans in this, so I’ll expand that out to simply all humans: The vast majority of us will choose the fantastic over the realistic. One needs to just look at online discussions of both films Avatar is discussed for it’s “realistic” faux reality. The Hurt Locker? Practically every comment thread on the film is filled with real soldiers (active and retired) ripping it apart for not being realistic enough. An interesting conundrum.

    All I know is nothing smells of desperation more than Hollywood tripping over itself to pump out 3D films to save the industry. I actually can’t think of anything more annoying than having to sit in a theater for 2+ hours wearing an extra set of glasses.

  3. Not everyone finds Avatar so apolitical. Some conservatives are complaining that it’s anti-American, anti-corporation, and anti-military.

    Fun Fact: Zoe Saldana (Neytiri from Avatar) and Anthony Mackie (Sgt. Sanborn from The Hurt Locker) played sister and brother in the forgettable Cayman Islands drama Haven.

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