After waiting thirteen years for a sequel to one of the most successful movies of all time, James Cameron’s AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER finally arrived in theatres this weekend. With a three-day opening gross of $134M, THE WAY OF WATER easily surpassed the $77M debut of the original AVATAR in 2019 from 12/18 – 12/20.
This weekend’s opening would be a massive success for almost any other picture. However, the hype surrounding THE WAY OF WATER was so intense that experts expected a three-day haul of $150M – $175M. It seemed reasonable, considering that SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME opened with a gross of $260M on the same pre-Christmas weekend last year.
Disney has made a massive investment in the film, with an estimated $350M – $400M in production and an equally ambitious spend for marketing. As a result, it can only reach profitability if it is able to become one of the highest-grossing pictures of all time. James Cameron set a very high bar when he pronounced that his movie could only break even if it grossed $2B worldwide.
When making comparisons to the original AVATAR, it’s helpful to recall that over its initial six weeks the box office from North American theatres dropped only slightly (+7%, -34%, -28%, -5%, -28%, -12%) and that it played in theatres for an astounding 48 consecutive weeks while racking up a total Domestic gross of $771M.
Its longevity has not been equaled since then, and many believe it will never again. By comparison, this year’s #1 picture TOP GUN: MAVERICK dropped -33% in its second week and -43% from week two to week three.
Here is a comparison of THE WAY OF WATER with other top-grossing films from 2022:
|Title||$ Opening Weekend||$ Total|
|#1: DR. STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS||$187M||$411M|
|#2: BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER||$181M||$413M|
|#3: JURASSIC WORLD: DOMINION||$145M||$376M|
|#4: THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER||$144M||$343M|
|#5: THE BATMAN||$134M||$369M|
|#5: AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER||$134M||TBD|
|#7: TOP GUN: MAVERICK||$127M||$717M|
AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER’s $134M opening weekend ties it with THE BATMAN as the fifth biggest movie opening of the year. In order to reach anything close to the success of the original AVATAR, the sequel must maintain a strong appeal for many, many weeks. This year, only TOP GUN: MAVERICK has been able to stay relevant for months on end, and we’re keeping our fingers crossed that James Cameron’s 3D masterpiece will dazzle audiences well into 2023.
It has generated a positive response from moviegoers, who have given a 94% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics have also been supportive, with an 80% Tomatometer score. While its opening numbers are somewhat lower than hoped, it is much too early to project a final tally for its theatrical run. The holiday period has only just begun, and THE WAY OF WATER will dominate ticket sales for many weeks ahead.
All other movies playing in theatres currently could only manage skimpy ticket sales. BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER finished in second place with $5.4M and a drop of 52% from last weekend. Third place went to VIOLENT NIGHT which sold $5M and dropped 43% from last weekend. STRANGE WORLD came in fourth place with $2.2M and a drop of 42%. THE MENU cooked up an additional $1.7M to take fifth place. All titles for the weekend grossed $152M versus $278M during the same weekend one year ago.
Last week, our spotlight on independent movies highlighted the limited debut of THE WHALE, which appeared in six select theatres. A24’s psychological drama starring Brendon Fraser continued for a second week at those same six theatres, earning $168K which represents a decline of 49% from last weekend’s opening. Next week, THE WHALE will expand nationwide to more than 1000 locations. PUSS will join it IN BOOTS, I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY, and BABYLON as new wide releases for exhibitors to add to their holiday menu.