Avatar: The Way of Water didn’t make quite as big of a splash as many assumed it would, but James Cameron’s big budget spectacle - no matter what we think of it - still helped breathe life into the box office this weekend.
The sequel earned $134 million (approx. €126.3 million) from North American theaters and $300.5 million (approx. €283.4 million) internationally for a $434.5 million (approx. €409.8 million) global debut, according to studio estimates.
It tied with The Batman as the fourth highest domestic debut of the year, behind Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness ( $187.4 million in May ), Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, ( $181 million in November ) and Thor: Love and Thunder ($144.2 million in July).
Expectations were enormous for Avatar: The Way of Water, which carried a reported price tag of over $350 million, the pressure of following up the highest grossing film of all time (thanks in part to various re-releases) over a decade later and the daunting task of propping up an exhibition business that’s still far from normal.
Going into the weekend many were expecting a domestic debut of at least $150 million. Some even said $175 or higher, but tracking has also not been as reliable a metric during the pandemic.
Disney saw early that Avatar: The Way of Water was going to be a different kind of beast when they looked at pre-sales. For a normal, spoiler-heavy movie like many Marvel offerings, post-opening weekend sales are usually around 5%. For The Way of Water, they were at 20%. In other words, the company knew that tracking was overinflated.
“We’ve got a terrific movie that is playing across all demographics and (has) terrific word of mouth,” said Tony Chambers, the Walt Disney Co.’s executive vice president for theatrical distribution. “We’ve got the screens and we’ve got a clear run. This isn’t about the opening day or the opening weekend. This is about the entire run.”
The film began its international rollout on Wednesday last week and debuted in North America on Thursday evening. Domestically, Avatar: The Way of Water was released in 4,202 theaters on over 12,000 screens, 400 of which were IMAX 3D. The studio and filmmakers bet big on the draw, and higher prices, of the 3D format and premium large screens.
By the end of Friday, Avatar: The Way of Water had already earned $53 million in the US nand Canada and $180.1 million globally, aided by a China release — the first major Hollywood release in the country since Minions: The Rise of Gru in August. It blows _Avatar_’s $26.7 million first day in 2009 out of the water, though that didn’t include Thursday previews.
An estimated 66% of the $435 million opening weekend revenue came from worldwide 3D ticket sales. Over $48.8 million of the global total came from IMAX screens alone (1,543 in 80 markets), the company's second biggest weekend.
“As excited as we are about these early results, we anticipate a long and successful run for ‘Avatar: The Way of Water,’" said Rich Gelfond, CEO of IMAX, in a statement.
As with many ambitious Cameron projects, from Titanic to the first Avatar, nerves were high for the costly sequel, one of the most expensive of all time, which began production five years ago. It faced repeated delays and weathered The Walt Disney Co’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox in 2019. It’s also one of four Avatar sequels Cameron had in mind. Filming on the third movie, which shot simultaneously with The Way of Water, is done, with an expected release in December 2024.
Estimated ticket sales for Friday through Sunday at US and Canadian theaters, according to Comscore:
- Avatar: The Way of Water - $134 million.
- Black Panther: Wakanda Forever - $5.4 million.
- Violent Night - $5 million.
- Strange World - $2.2 million.
- The Menu - $1.7 million.
- Devotion - $825,000.
- The Fabelmans - $750,000.
- Black Adam - $500,000.
- I Heard the Bells - $308,893.
- Empire of Light - $235,000.