20th Century’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” is doing decently this Christmas weekend with $19.5 million grossed on its second Friday, crossing $700 million worldwide as industry estimates predicting an $81 million four-day domestic weekend.
But industry watchers hoped for much higher totals for “Avatar 2” and the new holiday releases, and they probably would be if it were not for the winter storms gripping much of the U.S. and Canada. Combined with the usual trend of lower moviegoing on Christmas Eve, which falls on a Saturday this year, this weekend’s overall grosses are likely to be lower than anticipated.
According to CNN, multiple cities nationwide are set to record all-time low temperatures for Christmas Eve on Saturday, with blizzards and heavy winds knocking out power for as much as one million people nationwide. Called a “bomb cyclone” by some meteorologists and reporters, the freezing cold has led to dozens if not hundreds of movie theaters in the coldest areas of North America closing during this historically popular period for moviegoing, though studio insiders told TheWrap that it is difficult to get an exact number of closed theaters at this time.
Prior to blizzards entering the forecast, “Avatar 2” had been projected for a four-day total of at least $85 million, but the midweek totals have taken a hit as Thursday’s total of $14 million stayed flat compared to Wednesday rather than increasing as expected, leading to weekend projections getting adjusted to $75-85 million to account for the bad weather. If the current extended weekend estimate of $83 million holds, “Avatar 2” will have a domestic total of $279 million on Monday, 10% behind the pace of Paramount’s “Top Gun: Maverick.”
The storms have also taken a hit on the opening of Universal/DreamWorks’ “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” which opened on Wednesday and is estimated for a $17 million four-day opening from 4,099 theaters and a 6-day opening of $24 million. That is below the six-day opening of $46 million that Illumination’s “Sing 2” earned in its Christmas opening last year and below projections for “Puss in Boots 2” of an extended launch in the low $30 million range.
The good news is that critical and audience reception for the “Shrek” spinoff has been the strongest for any animated theatrical release this year, with an A on CinemaScore and Rotten Tomatoes scores of 96% critics and 93% audience. With a reported $90 million budget, “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” faces a long road to profitability, but there’s still hope for it to leg out into January with no other family films coming out this winter, giving it plenty of room to draw in parents, kids and general audiences with its word-of-mouth.
“I Wanna Dance With Somebody” is estimated for a four-day opening of $8-10 million from 3,625 theaters against a budget of $45 million co-financed by Black Label Media. The film has received mixed reviews with a 47% Rotten Tomatoes score, but Whitney Houston’s fans have embraced it with an A on CinemaScore and a 90% audience RT score. That might give it a chance to stretch its opening into the double digits and hit the $10-12 million range predicted before release by trackers.
“Babylon” doesn’t even have the silver lining of good word-of-mouth to soften the blow of its estimated $5 million opening from 3,343 theaters. With a three-hour runtime that starts with an orgiastic party in 1920s Hollywood and keeps going with the debaucherous imagery, Damien Chazelle’s dramedy polarized critics and audiences with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 55% critics and 68% audience along with a C+ from CinemaScore, making it almost certain that the film will fail to break even theatrically.
With a budget of $78 million, “Babylon” is set to join films like David O. Russell’s “Amsterdam,” Maria Schrader’s “She Said” and Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans” as the latest awards hopeful to bomb at a post-shutdown box office that has been merciless towards almost every prestige film. It’s also a tough ending to what has otherwise been a renaissance year for Paramount, as “Top Gun: Maverick” led a group of theatrical hits that combined for an annual domestic gross total of $1.3 billion, the studio’s highest since 2014.