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James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water topped Friday with a sizable $53 million — the director’s biggest opening day — for a domestic debut in the $130 million to $150 million range.
Box office analysts stress that modeling has become more difficult in the pandemic era. And even staunch rivals believe Avatar 2 will have incredibly robust legs, even if the opening weekend comes in at $130 million.
Overseas, the movie has grossed $127.1 million in its first three days for an early global haul of $180.1 million.
Heading into the weekend, tracking suggested The Way of Water’s launch would be $150 million to $175 million domestically and $450 million to $550 million globally. Overseas, the movie is receiving a coveted day-and-date release in China, although a major 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). And the 3D tentpole is seeing a huge share of its business come from Imax and other premium large format screens, meaning that some consumers don’t want to pay an upcharge for a premium or 3D experience (to be clear, it is also available in digital 2D).
Either way, The Way of Water is opening 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.
If early projections are right, Avatar 2 will open in the same range as Tom Cruise blockbuster Top: Gun Maverick, which debuted to $126.7 million domestically yet went on to amass a staggering $1.49 billion worldwide.
Disney, home of the film’s 20th Century Studios, stresses that the sequel’s success depends more on its long-term playability, versus a huge opening number, and note the movie’s glowing exit scores and A CinemaScore (2009’s Avatar likewise earned an A). Distribution sources also say advance ticket sales are spread out over the weekend and into Christmas week, versus being front-loaded.
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.
Avatar: The Way of Water cost $350 million-$400 million produce (sources say it is on the higher end). In earlier interviews promoting the sequel, Cameron indicated it would need to gross in the $2 billion range to be considered a success.
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Santa Barbara International Film Festival