There’s good news and bad news that can be taken from the $53 million domestic opening day of 20th Century’s “Avatar: The Way of Water.” The bad news is that this result makes it unlikely that James Cameron’s blockbuster sequel will meet pre-weekend projections for a $150 million-plus opening weekend, instead settling for a now-estimated $130-135 million launch.
Similar drops are being felt in overseas markets, with China in particular failing to overcome the strong surge in COVID-19 infections that came with the country’s strict health restrictions being lifted. As reported yesterday, the film posted a lower-than-expected $24 million on opening day there; and with a running total of $180 million grossed worldwide through Friday, projections for the global opening weekend are sliding to around $300 million. Earlier this week, global opening projections consolidated in the $400 million range with a peak of $525 million.
Here’s the good news: audiences absolutely love this movie. While the Rotten Tomatoes critics score stands at 78%, slightly below the 82% for the first “Avatar,” audience score for “The Way of Water” is at an excellent 94%. CinemaScore reported an A from opening day audiences, and Comscore/Screen Engine’s PostTrak scores of 5/5 and 82% definite recommend.
Those are the kind of strong audience scores that “Avatar: The Way of Water” is going to need if it is going to have anywhere near the kind of legs that its predecessor did. Back in 2009, “Avatar” opened to $77 million but only dropped 2% the following Christmas weekend and 9% on New Year’s weekend. With incredibly strong mid-week grosses in between, the film had made $352 million after three weekends and went on to finish its original run with just under $750 million in U.S. and Canada.
Even more recently, Paramount’s “Top Gun: Maverick” opened to a 3-day start of $126 million this past May and then rode stellar audience word-of-mouth to a $718.7 million domestic/$1.48 billion global box office run. “The Way of Water” will try to emulate that success over the holiday season and into the early months of 2023, trying to captivate audiences with its story of a family under siege in a beautiful alien world with visual effects that demand to be seen on the biggest screen and, as James Cameron hopes, with 3D glasses.
The stakes are high for “Avatar: The Way of Water,” as Cameron plans to turn his sci-fi epic into a multi-film franchise. A third “Avatar” film is set for release in December 2024, with Cameron saying that principal shooting has already wrapped with production on a fourth film underway. Cameron also said in a GQ interview that “The Way of Water,” which is reported to have a budget of around $400 million before marketing, would have to be the “third or fourth highest-grossing film in history” to be profitable, though it is unclear whether that was hyperbole.