After a 13 year gap, James Cameron returned to the world of Pandora with Avatar: The Way of Water. The sequel to the highest-grossing film of all time — yes, it took the title back from Avengers: Endgame — has been a long time coming. Now under the banner of Disney, this franchise is extremely expensive and has a lot of heavy expectations on its shoulders. There are three more sequels planned over the next ten years and a reported budget of $1 billion for four movies (but I would expect the real costs to be way higher.) It’s long been a foolish endeavor to bet against James Cameron making all of the money, so how did he do?
He did well. Kind of. In its opening weekend, The Way of Water made $134 million from 4,202 theaters. That’s obviously nothing to sneeze at but it’s not the biggest opening of 2022. It’s actually the fifth, behind Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. As Box Office Mojo notes, it’s still the second-highest-grossing weekend of the past five months. It’s already in the top ten highest-grossing films of 2022. But let’s be honest, Avatar was never going to be judged like any other franchise. We’re talking about a record-smashing blockbuster here. Nothing really came close to what Avatar did worldwide, not really.
We’ve written many times over the past decade or so about the cultural footprint of Avatar. It’s long been joked that nobody really ‘likes the world of the Na’vi and that it was more a flash-in-the-pan than something designed to stick around. Yet, if that were the case, the new film wouldn’t be so strongly reviewed. There wouldn’t be four sequels planned. There has to be something here, something that even the notoriously risk-averse Disney are willing to throw ten figures behind. This is a rare American blockbuster that is receiving a major release in China, something denied to Top Gun: Maverick and recent Marvel fare. It managed to pull in $57.1 million there, which is below Disney’s expectations. Remember, China’s currently undergoing another surge of COVID and there was a thing called the World Cup this past week, which pulled attention away from theaters. I doubt this new movie will make Avatar money, but there’s not much major competition this Christmas season for it to worry about. Perhaps it’d be best to think of Avatar as just another franchise. Sorry, James Cameron.
This Christmas week sees a few releases that could pull away some eyeballs from Pandora. The bombastic Hollywood drama Babylon has received strong-to-mixed reviews but has star power and could appeal to the indie crowd. Then there’s the Whitney Houston biopic I Wanna Dance with Somebody, which will have great tunes, if nothing else. Both are being hyped as awards fare but such prestige titles haven’t done great at the box office these past few weeks. Not even Steven Spielberg has been able to withstand the pressure, with The Fabelmans sitting at $8.5 million domestically after six weeks. The Whale opened strongly last week and is still holding on okay with six theaters in play but it’s becoming increasingly clear that movies like this are seen as streaming fare for most audiences now. That sucks, not gonna lie.
This coming weekend is Christmas. Enjoy yourselves and watch good movies!
You can check out the rest of the weekend box office here.