James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water topped the domestic box office with an estimated $134 million opening, less than expected but still a sizable number as the film heads into the merriest corridor of the year in terms of moviegoing.
Even rival studios believe Avatar 2 will have robust legs over the holidays and into 2023, thanks to an A CinemaScore and strong audience exit scores. Traditionally, weekdays can be like a Saturday over the Christmas-New Year stretch. Distribution sources also say advance ticket sales are spread into this week, versus being front-loaded.
Overseas, the movie debuted to $301 million for a global start of $435 million. From Disney and 20th Century, The Way of Water cost $350 million-$400 million to produce, making it one of the most expensive pics in modern Hollywood history. In earlier interviews promoting the sequel, Cameron indicated it would need to gross in the $2 billion range to be considered a success.
Heading into the weekend, tracking suggested the movie’s launch would be $150 million to $175 million domestically and $450 million to $550 million globally. Overseas, the movie received a coveted day-and-date release in China, although a COVID-19 outbreak is having a major impact on the box office in that country.
Another major challenge: The film’s running time is a hefty three hours and 12 minutes, resulting in fewer showtimes. (At the same time, it faces almost no competition.)
On the flip side, The Way of Water opened notably ahead of the $77 million domestic debut of the first Avatar in December 2009. The groundbreaking film went on to become the top-grossing film of all time at the worldwide box office with $2.92 billion-plus in ticket sales, including rereleases. Avatar’s play pattern underscores why December titles can be more about playability than the size of the opening.
Outside of superhero fare, The Way of Water is among only a few Hollywood films that have opened north of $100 million in the pandemic era. Another is Tom Cruise blockbuster Top: Gun Maverick, which debuted to $126.7 million earlier this year domestically yet went on to amass a staggering $1.49 billion worldwide.
Cameron produced The Way of Water alongside his longtime Lightstorm partner Jon Landau. The movie stars Zoe Saldaña, Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver and Stephen Lang, and once again centers on Worthington’s Sully and Saldaña’s Na’vi character, Neytiri. It picks up a decade after the original and follows their family, with additional stars including franchise newcomer Kate Winslet.
More to come.