‘Avatar 2’ Nears $900 Million Worldwide as ‘Babylon’ Bombs at Holiday Box Office

“The Way of Water” was the only major ticket seller as Christmas Day totals hit a 20-year low

20th Century Studios

While the ruthless winter storms that gripped much of North America this Christmas have to be taken into account, the Christmas box office was still largely carried by 20th Century’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” as several holiday newcomers struggled to find an audience.

As freezing temperatures sapped moviegoing interest during this critical box office period, 4-day weekend estimates for James Cameron’s blockbuster were revised by Disney/20th Century to $82 million, down from $85 million-plus early this past week. But after grossing a stronger-than-expected $29.5 million on Christmas Day, the extended weekend total has been revised up to $90 million.

That would give “Avatar 2” a domestic total through Monday of $287 milion, approximately 7% behind the pace of 2022’s top grossing film, “Top Gun: Maverick.”

Hopes of a $2 billion-plus global total like the first “Avatar” have been dashed due to COVID-19 surges in China, but overseas grosses still remain strong with “Avatar 2” reporting a 4-day weekend global total of at least $250 million. By the end of Monday, “The Way of Water” is expected to pass $875 million in worldwide grosses and should cross the $1 billion mark by New Year’s Day at the latest.

Though the windfall grosses in China won’t happen, grosses in the major Asian market have reached $100 million this weekend, while totals in South Korea and France eclipsed $50 million with strong holds being reported in those countries.

Globally, the weekend drop for “Avatar 2” was held to 42%; and while that may not be as strong as expected for a sequel to a film with one of the longest runs in modern box office history, it’s impressive considering that Christmas Eve, a historically slow day for moviegoing, fell on a Saturday this year with the aforementioned storms and COVID outbreaks also proving to be formidable hurdles.

But beyond “The Way of Water,” there hasn’t been much for exhibitors and studios to celebrate this Christmas. “Avatar 2” accounted for roughly two-thirds of domestic grosses on Christmas Day, which only reached around $45 million overall. Aside from the pandemic shutdown of 2020, that is the lowest Christmas Day total the box office has seen since 2002.

Of all the newcomers, the biggest bust has been Paramount and Damien Chazelle’s R-rated Hollywood dramedy “Babylon,” an awards hopeful with five Golden Globe nominations and a budget of at least $78 million before marketing that earned a paltry $3.6 million opening through Sunday and is projected for a 4-day opening of around $5.4 million.

The only possible hope for “Babylon” would be if a slew of Oscar nominations revives interest in seeing the film next month, though that would require the film to reverse the trend of poor box office results for prestige films going back to last year. Given the film’s poor audience metrics — C+ on CinemaScore and 50% Rotten Tomatoes audience score — that is unlikely.

Despite the high-profile misfire, Paramount will be able to take the write-down for “Babylon” thanks to its strongest box office year since 2014, with $1.3 billion grossing in North America alone. “Babylon” has also yielded a first-look deal with Chazelle as Paramount looks to build relationships with top filmmakers.

Sony’s “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody” is also struggling, sitting above “Babylon” in third place on the box office charts with a 4-day estimated opening weekend of just $6.8 million.

The Kasi Lemmons-directed biopic has a reported budget of $45 million co-financed by a group of production outlets led by Black Label Media and Compelling Pictures, which will soften the blow for Sony should the film fail to find an audience beyond Whitney Houston’s fans. For now, those fans are embracing the film as it has Rotten Tomatoes scores of 46% critics and 91% audience to go with an A on CinemaScore.

The film with the best chance of rebounding from its soft opening is the top grossing new release: Universal/DreamWorks’ “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” which opened on Wednesday and is projected to earn $20 million over the 4-day weekend. Including Wednesday and Thursday grosses and Thanksgiving weekend previews, the sequel is projected for an extended domestic opening of $26.9 million, below the $46 million extended Christmas opening of Illumination’s “Sing 2” last year and pre-weekend projections of a $30-33 million 6-day opening.

The good news is that “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” will be the only family animated opening for the rest of the winter, and word-of-mouth is extremely strong with an A on CinemaScore and Rotten Tomatoes scores of 95% critics and 93% audience. That will give this sequel a good chance to leg out and turn a profit against its reported $90 million budget, especially once the winter storms subside.

Elsewhere, Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is about to cross $800 million at the global box office after adding $3.3 million this weekend, giving it a total of $428 million in North America. The film will stand as the sixth highest grossing of 2022 with a total about 42% lower than the $1.38 billion made by the first “Black Panther” in 2018.

Outside the top 5, A24’s “The Whale” grossed $1 million from 603 locations through Sunday and is estimated for a $1.4 million four-day wide opening. The Darren Aronofsky drama, which has propelled Brendan Fraser to the front of the Best Actor Oscar race, has earned $2.5 million so far as most prestige films struggle to perform in this post-shutdown market.

That was also the case with United Artists/Orion’s “Women Talking,” another major Oscar contender that opened in limited release and earned an estimated $55,000 from eight screens for a per theater average of $6,875. It’s important to note that four of the five cities Sarah Polley’s feminist drama were released in — New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Austin and Toronto — were hit by the winter storms this weekend.

Given the current box office trends and the film’s frank, unflinching approach to tackling domestic abuse, “Women Talking” isn’t likely to gross much at the box office given the struggles of similar films like “She Said.” But audience scores have been strong with an 81% “definite recommend” on Comscore/Screen Engine’s PostTrak. The film will expand wide on January 20, just before the announcement of Oscar nominees.