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Hollywood and worried theater owners are counting on the long-awaited sequel to close out 2022 in grand fashion after a tough fall season. If tracking is correct, The Way of Water should score a domestic debut of $150 million to $175 million, and $450 million to $550 million globally.
One challenge: The film’s running time is a hefty three hours and 12 minutes, meaning fewer showtimes (at the same time, it faces almost no competition).
Another major variable is China, where Avatar 2 is one of the few recent Hollywood tentpoles to receive a release. It could open to as much as $100 million, although a major COVID-19 outbreak in Beijing could complicate matters.
In terms of other 2022 tentpoles, Disney/Marvel’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness opened to $449 million worldwide, the best showing of the year so far (it did not play in China). Sony and Marvel’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, released in December 2021, continues to hold the record for the best global debut of the pandemic era debut at $583 million (No Way Home likewise didn’t play in China).
The Way of Water, costing $350 million to $400 million to produce before marketing, opens 13 years after the first Avatar became the top-grossing film of all time worldwide, a record it still holds with more than $2.92 billion in ticket sales, not adjusted for inflation.
Disney, home of 20th Century, stresses that the sequel’s success depends more on its long term legs, versus a mega-opening number. The first Avatar debuted to a relatively modest $77 million in mid-December 2009, but hung in for months (that film ran two hours and 41 minutes).
Earlier this year, Tom Cruise blockbuster Top: Gun Maverick opened to $126.7 million domestically, yet went on to amass a staggering $1.49 billion at the worldwide box office.
The Way of Water is certain to do enormous business on premium screens, including Imax. The first Avatar was groundbreaking in terms of various technologies, including Cameron’s use of 3D.
In terms of its running time, Avatar 2 hopes to join an elite club of longer Hollywood tentpoles that have done blockbuster business in theaters, including Disney/Marvel release Avengers: Endgame (three hours and 2 minutes) and Cameron’s Titanic (three hours and 14 minutes). The two films rank No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, on Comscore’s list of the top-grossing movies of all time at the worldwide box office behind Avatar.
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 newcomers Kate Winslet.
A previous version misstated that Vin Diesel is part of Avatar 2.
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