‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ Revives Box Office With $134 Million Opening Weekend

James Cameron’s sequel sees a $435 million global launch and strong audience response

20 Century

Disney/20th Century’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” is falling slightly below the high expectations that box office projections had for it in North America, but it has still earned director James Cameron the first $100 million-plus opening of his career with a $134 million domestic launch — matching the opening weekend of Warner Bros.’ “The Batman” — and a worldwide opening of $434.5 million.

The global total fits within the range that box office projections had set at around $400 million, though the domestic total is underneath projections of at least $150 million. The most optimistic projections had “The Way of Water” challenging the likes of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” at $175-180 million domestic and $525 million global.

But the best news for “Avatar 2” may not be the numbers. Audience word-of-mouth has been very strong, with an A on CinemaScore, a 94% Rotten Tomatoes audience score, and 82% of moviegoers polled by Comscore/Screen Engine’s PostTrak giving it a “definite recommend” rating with a score of 5/5.

The film’s Saturday total of $44 million was also slightly above yesterday morning’s projections of $40 million, meaning that walk-up ticket sales are improving and that the final opening weekend total could inch close to $140 million depending on Sunday results.

As the film industry has seen time and time again with films like Sony’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” and, of course, the first “Avatar,” the holiday season is a perfect spot for a popular blockbuster to drive strong grosses all the way through New Year’s Day. Aside from some possible competition from Universal/DreamWorks’ “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” for family ticket sales, “Avatar: The Way of Water” faces no serious four-quadrant competition during Christmas next weekend.

“Avatar 2” should also continue to see robust turnout for premium formats, which come with surcharges that boost the box office revenues. 3D format company RealD reported ticket sales for 3D screens made up two-thirds of the sequel’s entire opening weekend total, while Imax reported $48.8 million in global grosses, making “Avatar 2” Imax’s second highest opening weekend ever behind only “Avengers: Endgame” in pre-pandemic 2019.

Combine that all together, and “The Way of Water” is still on course to easily pass $1 billion in worldwide grosses, even if it doesn’t reach the $2 billion level that Cameron admitted in a GQ interview that the film would need to reach to turn a profit. The results from Christmas and New Year’s weekends will provide much more definitive evidence of how far into the new year “Avatar 2” can endure in theaters.

The rest of the box office top 5 consists of holdovers fighting for scraps, with Disney/Marvel’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” and Universal’s “Violent Night” in a dead heat for second place with $5 million each. That total is enough to push “Wakanda Forever” pass “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” to become the second highest domestic total of the year with $418 million. Universal’s “Violent Night” stands at a far humbler $35 million but is set to turn a small profit against its $20 million production budget.

Disney’s animated bomb “Strange World” continues to flounder with $2.3 million in its fourth weekend and a running domestic total of just under $34 million, still having not even eclipse the $38 million domestic run of Disney’s infamous 2002 bomb “Treasure Planet.” Searchlight’s much cheaper horror satire “The Menu” completes the top 5 with $1.5 million in its fifth weekend and a $32 million total, standing as one of the few successful specialty titles this year.