James Cameron may be “King of the World” at the box office, but that plainly doesn’t hold true when it comes to documentaries.
“James Cameron‘s Deepsea Challenge 3D” opened in 304 theaters to a soggy $147,000 this weekend. That’s a puny $485 per-screen average for the chronicle of the mini-sub journey to the ocean’s deepest depths by Cameron, the man behind the two highest-grossing movies of all time, “Avatar” and “Titanic.”
No one expected the documentary from indie distributor DisruptiveLA to match the numbers those films put up of course, but the “Deepsea Challenge” showing is still disappointing, given Cameron’s name and the considerable pre-opening publicity it received.
By comparison, “What If,” the romantic comedy from CBS Films featuring “Harry Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan, opened to $130,000 on just 20 screens, for a $6,500 per-location average. And “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” which was the top-grossing film this weekend and in 3,845 theaters, averaged nearly $17,000 per location in its debut.
Cameron’s earlier documentaries had better openings, and showed some legs, so there’s still hope. His IMAX documentary “Aliens of the Deep” opened to $479,368 on 27 theaters in 2005, and ultimately brought in more than $12 million. Another IMAX film, “Ghosts of the Abyss,” opened to $1.4 million from 97 theaters and went to take in $17 million domestically and $22 million worldwide in 2003. Cameron directed those two films, while John Bruno and Ray Quint directed this one.
It’s a good bet Cameron isn’t sweating the soft “Deepsea Challenge” opening. “Avatar” and “Titanic” have brought in $4.8 billion globally, and Cameron is working on three “Avatar” sequels for Fox. The first one is due at Christmas 2016.