A decade after “Avatar” cemented its place in the box office record books, director James Cameron returns to the lush world of Pandora with The Way of Water. Will moviegoers be excited to reconnect with the Na’vi?
Based on opening weekend predictions, it looks like Jake Sully and company have – against all odds – remained in the public consciousness. The film is set to debut at between $150 million and $175 million from 4,100 theaters in North America, a towering start to a column that doesn’t include superheroes. But as the sequel to the highest-grossing movie in history, “Avatar 2” has some very high expectations to live up to.
The first “Avatar” debuted in 2009 with $77 million domestically, which is a strong start but hardly a record-breaker. But the film was on unparalleled strength, holding the No. 1 spot for a record seven consecutive weeks, eventually rising to $760 million in North America. The sequel will similarly count on repeat viewings and a long leg at the box office, though its scary running time (3 hours and 12 minutes) may be intimidating for viewers. Lucky for The Way of Water (though it might be unlucky for die-hard theater owners), there isn’t much competition during the rest of the year.
Avatar 2 has already raked in $38 million in prequel ticket sales, ahead of Top Gun: Maverick (which opened with $126 million) and Jurassic World Dominion (which opened with $145 million), but behind Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” (which opened with $181 million) and “Black Panther Wakanda Forever” (which opened with $180 million) are at the same point in their selling cycles.
On the higher end of expectations, it looks like “Avatar 2” will make its biggest domestic debut of the year, though it’s not expected to beat “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” or “Wakanda Forever.” Other openings in 2022 include “Jurassic World Dominion,” “Thor: Love and Thunder” ($144 million), and “Batman” ($134 million).
Internationally, “Avatar 2” could add at least $250 million to $350 million over the weekend, which would put global ticket sales in the range of $400 million to $500 million. China, where movie theaters have been in crisis mode, will determine whether ticket sales manage to get close to the half-billion-dollar mark. With these estimates, “Avatar 2” could also hit the biggest global openings of the year, around “Doctor Strange 2” (with $449 million excluding China) and “Jurassic World Dominion” (with $356 million including China). .
Lucky for Disney and Cameron, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is one of today’s rare Hollywood movies granted access to play in China, with the original film becoming a $261 million sensation. However, the outbreak of COVID in the country, combined with the closure of theaters (only 77% of cinemas are open), has left box office projections in limbo. But Avatar may be the exception to the lackluster presence in the country. So far, Chinese movie theaters have recorded $22 million in advance sales for “Avatar 2,” and it’s realistic that initial revenues could reach $100 million by Sunday.
“The Way of Water” will also get a boost from Imax screens, which comes with a price increase over the average movie ticket. It will be played at more than 4,000 Imax locations worldwide, marking the company’s largest ever release. Premium formats like Imax and 3D were key to boosting ticket sales for the original, which boasted the revolutionary use of CGI and motion capture technology. The first film is the highest-grossing Imax release ever with $270 million worldwide, despite only having 300 screens at the time.
The “Avatar” sequel cost $350 million, so it won’t satisfy the box office by simply putting up impressive numbers. According to Cameron, the film would have to be one of the three or four highest-grossing films in history to break even and justify its steep price tag. On top of that, Cameron’s “The Way of Water” needs to work because it’s the first of three planned sequels in Cameron’s sprawling future series. The international box office, where the first “Avatar” made more than 70% of its money, will be key to the film’s financial success.
miscellaneous Chief film critic Owen Gleiberman is optimistic that “Avatar 2” will find itself at the top of the all-time box office charts. In his review, he wrote, “I think the odds of that happening are actually very good.” “Cameron has raised the stakes of not only his effects artistry but the flow of his theatrical choreography, so far as to make ‘The Way of Water,’ like ‘Avatar,’ into an apotheosis of a must-see movie.” He adds, “Cameron, a four-decade veteran of bravura labor logistics, hasn’t lost any of his charm.”
Set more than a decade after the first film, “Avatar: The Way of Water” follows the Sully family – portrayed by Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña and Sigourney Weaver – as they battle the elements to survive and keep each other safe.
Other critics were similarly ecstatic, with the Los Angeles Times declaring that the film “will tackle cinematic-visiting blues”, while The Atlantic said that “Avatar 2 puts most recent blockbusters to shame”.
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