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411 Box Office Report: Avatar: The Way Of Water Gets Off to $134 Million Start

December 18, 2022 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER Image Credit: 20th Century Studios

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Avatar: The Way Of Water dominated the box office in its opening weekend. The long-awaited sequel to James Cameron’s blockbuster got off to a hefty (yet moderate) start with a $134 million opening. That comes in on the low end of projections coming into the weekend, despite being the #6 opening of the year and easily the best opening of Cameron’s career (the previous high being Avatar’s $77 million start).

Expectations were high for The Way of Water, which has been a film 13 years in the making. After Avatar broke box office records, Cameron went right into this and has been working on Way of Water and three other sequels ever since. Of course, while $134 million is a great result by any measure, it still marks below the sky-high expectations that many had in the weeks leading up to the film’s release. Predictions in the $200 million starting range were doled out, and Cameron himself said that the film would need to be a massive grosser to make up for the budget – a reported $400 million or more, before marketing.

But more realistic expectations reigned in the week leading up to the release. Those moderated predictions came on the back of solid (but not exceptional) reviews – the film currently sits at a 77% aggregated average on Rotten Tomatoes – as well as the reality of the lengthy runtime. $134 million is neither the runaway success that some hoped for, nor the bomb that others expected.

It is important at this point to recognize that Cameron’s films have never made a profit based on the strong opening weekends; rather, they tend to have long legs at the box office. The Way Of Water is likely to follow that suit. Avatar had a 10.2 multiple of its box office opening, and while the sequel won’t do those numbers it should be in it for the long haul. For one thing, there is little competition coming up and the holiday frame is famous for being a place where films leg out very well. For another, Way of Water is scoring very well in terms of word of mouth, with a A CinemaScore and a 93% RT audience rating.

This all means that Way of Water is likely to continue climbing week to week. It’s way too early to believe it might top Top Gun: Maverick’s $718.7 million domestic total, but it will be #2 at the very least. $500 million domestically seems to be very likely, and overseas it is doing quite well with $300.5 million for a $434.5 million worldwide total thus far. Will it reach the $2 billion mark? Only time will tell and it’s a long climb, but it is not impossible.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever slipped to #2 after five weeks at the top spot, bringing in $5.4 million. The MCU film was off 52% from last weekend, a solid hold considering the competition that came in this frame. The film is now up to $419 million domestically, having passed Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ domestic total earlier in the week, and has $786.5 million worldwide. It is likely to close out its domestic run at about $435 million, good enough to be seventh-highest domestic gross of any MCU film. The budget was $250 million.

Violent Night continues to bring in the holiday cash for Universal, as it grossed another $5 million which was down just 43% from last weekend. The Tommy Wirkola-directed action comedy has totalled $35 million domestically and $55.1 million, strong numbers against a $20 million budget. Universal is making solid money on this film, which should close out around $45 million to $50 million in the US.

Strange World was down 42% in its fourth weekend to $2.2 million. The Disney Animation film is one of the bigger bombs of the year, standing at $33.8 million domestically and $57 million worldwide against a $135 million budget. It will probably close out at around $40 million domestically.

Meanwhile, The Menu is proving to be a hit for Searchlight Pictures, having eased 39% in its fifth weekend to $1.7 million. The darkly comedic thriller has grossed $32.1 million domestically and $60.8 million worldwide, making it on a road to profit against a $30 million budget. The final total looks to be around $38 million.

Devotion dropped 59% in its fourth weekend to $825,000, which brings it to $18.7 million domestically and $19 million worldwide. This one is not a hit for Sony and end its run at around $20 million domestically.

Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans was off 36% in its sixth weekend, grossing $750,000. The semi-autobiographical drama has now totaled $8.7 million stateside and $8.8 million worldwide, needing some serious boosts to be able to go even close to its $40 million budget.

Black Adam fell 62% as it makes its way out of theaters and bowed on HBO Max. The DC superhero film brought in $500,000 in its ninth weekend and now stands at $167.7 million domestically and $390 million worldwide. It should end its run with $170 million in the US and is vaguely profitable thanks to a lower marketing spend than expected.

Fathom Events’ I Heard the Bells slipped 59% in its third weekend to $309,000. The drama has $5 million and end its run right around this point.

Searchlight Pictures’ Empire of Light expanded its theater count a bit and climbed into the top 10 in its second weekend of limited release. The low-key British romantic drama grossed $235,000, weighed down by bad reviews (a 44% RT score) and mediocre word of mouth (74% audience rating). No word on this film’s budget, but it won’t make much more than a blip in theaters.

Next weekend will see Na’vi reign again as Avatar: The Way Of Water continues to dominate. The only new release is the Shrek spinoff Puss In Boots: The Last Wish, which opens on Wednesday and is targeting perhaps $20 million for the three day-weekend.

BOX OFFICE TOP TEN (Three-Day Domestic Numbers)
1. Avatar: The Way Of Water – $134 million ($134 million total, $434.5 million WW)
2. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – $5.4 million ($419 million total, $786.4 million WW)
3. Violent Night – $5 million ($35 million total, $55.1 million WW)
4. Strange World – $2.2 million ($33.8 million total, $56.7 million WW)
5. The Menu – $1.7 million ($32.1 million total, $60.8 million WW)
6. Devotion – $825,000 ($18.7 million total, $19 million WW)
7. The Fabelmans – $750,000 ($8.7 million total, $8.7 million WW)
8. Black Adam – $500,000 ($167.7 million total, $390 million WW)
9. I Heard the Bells – $309,000 ($5 million total, $5 million WW)
10. Empire of Light – $235,000 ($471,000 total, $471,000 WW)