‘The Way of Water’ dominates with $134 million domestic debut, $435 million worldwide

James Cameron’s highly anticipated sequel “Avatar: The Way of Water” grossed $134 million on its North American box office debut, cementing public interest in Pandora and providing a much-needed boost to beleaguered movie theaters.

Overseas, the sci-fi epic grossed $301 million, bringing its worldwide total to $435 million. Those ticket sales mark the third-biggest worldwide opening weekend in pandemic times, behind “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” ($442 million worldwide) and “Spider-Man: No Way Home” ($600 million worldwide).

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At the domestic box office, “Avatar 2” scored the fourth-biggest opening weekend of the year. The sequel fell short of expectations, putting initial numbers closer to $150 million to $175 million. But Cameron’s films, which have brought in billions at the box office, often start slower and build over time. Disney, which owns the rights to “Avatar” after acquiring 20th Century Fox in 2019, hopes this will be the case again, as “The Way of Water” cost at least $350 million to produce and many millions more to release. to market. Cameron says the movie needs to become one of the highest-grossing releases in history to break even and justify the huge price tag.

“Expectations aside, this is excellent,” said David A. Gross, who heads the film consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research. “The film is poised for a very strong run over the holiday season.”

As the follow-up to the highest-grossing move in history, Hollywood has pretty high hopes for “The Way of Water,” Cameron’s first film to gross $100 million in one weekend. The first “Avatar” opened in 2009 with $77 million domestically, a decent start but hardly one for the record books. But the film had unparalleled staying power, holding #1 for seven consecutive weeks and continuing to draw audiences for months on end. Thanks to expensive 3D tickets and repeat viewings, ticket sales eventually soared to $760 million in North America and $2.92 billion worldwide.

“The Way of Water” will struggle to meet that benchmark given the constraints facing the COVID-battered box office. It’s not playing in Russia, where the original film grossed $116 million, and while it’s being screened in China (its inaugural ticket sales fell short of expectations with $57.1 million opening weekend), the country’s box office has struggled to to recover. In times of pandemic, only three films have surpassed $1 billion worldwide, and none have managed to hit $2 billion (although “Spider-Man: No Way Home” came close with $1.9 billion).

Fortunately for “The Way of Water” (although perhaps not so fortunate for theater owners), there isn’t much competition for the rest of the year. However, the daunting running time of 3 hours and 12 minutes may put people off wanting to watch the movie over and over again.

Attendance for “Avatar 2” was especially strong on Imax and 3D screens, with 62% of ticket sales coming from premium formats. Worldwide, the film earned $48.8 million from Imax alone, registering the company as the second-biggest weekend ever and the highest December opening in history.

“As excited as we are about these initial results, we expect a long and successful run for ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ as more people around the world book their ticket to Pandora for the epic storytelling and unmissable visual splendor of what James Cameron and his team have created,” said Rich Gelfond, CEO of Imax.

Given the hype surrounding Cameron’s grand return to Pandora, rival studios chose to lay low, allowing leftover titles to top out the rest of the box office charts. Another Disney blockbuster sequel, Marvel’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” slipped into second place after five weeks at No. 1. The superhero epic added $5.3 million from 3,380 theaters, bringing its domestic total to $ 418 million came.

At No. 3, Universal’s holiday thriller “Violent Night” generated $5 million from 3,528 locations. After three weeks, the film has grossed $34.9 million.

Disney films took four of the top five spots in North America, with “Strange World” and Searchlight’s dark comedy “The Menu” taking fourth and fifth, respectively. “Strange World” added $2.2 million from 2,870 theaters, bringing the total to $33.7 million, a terrible result considering its $200 million budget. Costing a fraction of Strange World, “The Menu” grossed $1.7 million from 1,875 theaters, bringing its domestic total to $32.1 million.

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