The sequel has grossed over $130 million and counting from the French, as their country’s film industry anticipates a rebound in 2023
To get an understanding of just how deeply “Avatar” has ingrained itself in the minds of moviegoers worldwide — as “The Way of Water” has now passed “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” on the box office charts — look no further than one of its best-performing countries: France.
Outside the $620 million from U.S./Canada and the $237 million from China, France is the top-grossing market for “Avatar: The Way of Water” with $136.9 million so far. The country was in the same third-place spot behind the U.S. and China with the first “Avatar” in 2009 with $174 million grossed.
For a sense of how strong this number is for the French box office, consider that “Spider-Man: No Way Home” grossed $70 million in the country a year ago. In fact, “Avatar 2” is the first film to gross over $100 million in the country since the locally-made comedy “Serial (Bad) Weddings” back in 2014.
Within the French film industry, box office is measured by tickets sold rather than gross total. On that front, “Avatar 2” has crossed 12 million admissions and has cracked the top 20 all-time list for the country. It’s one of only three Hollywood films made in the last 30 years in that top 20, and the other two are also James Cameron films: the first “Avatar” at No. 8 with 14.7 million admissions and “Titanic” at No. 1 with 21.7 million.
While there are other countries in which “Avatar: The Way of Water” has performed exceptionally well — Germany and South Korea have each also contributed over $100 million — it’s clear that “Avatar” as a film and Cameron as a director have huge clout in France in a way that no other Hollywood franchise, not even Marvel and “Star Wars,” has been able to demonstrate. And the sequel has been able to achieve that despite having fewer showtimes in French theaters than in other major countries.
According to data from Boxoffice in the above chart, “Avatar 2” ran in 42% of all theaters in France during its opening week and comprised 16% of all showtimes. By comparison, it screened in 63% of theaters in Germany with a 36% showtime share. As Boxoffice CEO Julien Marcel explains, this is no accident.
“It has always been part of the French film culture to always have balance at cinemas, to offer equal showtimes for adult dramas and French productions as much as blockbusters and Hollywood productions,” he said. “In most multiplexes, a film like ‘Avatar’ will only screen in two or three auditoriums.”
The film’s opening weekend also had the extra competition of the FIFA World Cup final, in which France’s national team was competing against Argentina. Despite that, “The Way of Water” still scored the biggest opening weekend in France in 2022 with $13 million. The weekend total increased to $21.7 million on Christmas weekend and $27 million on New Year’s weekend, without increasing its theater count.
Charline Baudry-Biancarelli, VP of marketing for French theater chain CGR Cinemas, told TheWrap that a factor behind “Avatar 2’s” runaway success is that Cameron’s interests in filmmaking technology and ocean conservation — both deep in the DNA of “The Way of Water” — struck a particular chord with French culture.
“I personally think that there is a love story between French moviegoers and anything related to the ocean, and the message of ecology in ‘Avatar’ has also really been embraced here,” Baudry-Biancarelli said. “And like everywhere else, there was a huge demand for 3D and other premium formats. CGR is the second largest chain in France, but the gap in ticket sales between our theaters and UGC was much narrower thanks to the strong turnout for 3D and for our ICE premium theaters.”
The teaser trailer for “Avatar 2” dropped this past May in front of “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” When it did, a viral video surfaced of moviegoers at Le Grand Rex in Paris cheering wildly at the teaser’s few brief glimpses of Jake and Neytiri as they returned to the big screen after 13 years. In retrospect, that may have been a screaming clue that time had not diminished the way “Avatar” had captivated people across geographic and cultural boundaries and left them yearning for more, and that “The Way of Water” was destined for the same record box office success as its predecessor.
And now, like the rest of the exhibition world, France’s cinemas are hoping to turn the momentum given by “Avatar 2” into a stronger 2023. According to the National Centre for Cinema, the French box office recorded 152 million admissions in 2022, off 27% from pre-pandemic levels but up 59% from 2021. Baudry-Biancarelli says that CGR’s box office revenue was slightly better than the national average at 20% below pre-pandemic levels thanks in good part to the end-of-year boost provided by “Avatar 2” and its premium format screenings.
As in the U.S., an increase in Hollywood franchise films in 2023 should help boost French admissions, but the industry is also hoping for continued increases in turnout for locally made films. In 2022, local films and Hollywood films had about an equal share of ticket sales in France at approximately 40% each, with the remaining 20% coming from other imports. The third installment of the “Serial (Bad) Weddings” series was the top-performing French film this past year with 2.4 million admissions, and an upcoming film based on the popular “Asterix” comics is expected to be the top local title of 2023.
“The Hollywood films and the wide appeal French films have been key to getting most people back in theaters, but towards the end of 2022 we also saw some smaller dramas do better than we anticipated,” Baudry-Biancarelli said. “The diversity is slowly rebuilding as more films get released and that should keep going as people get back into the habit of moviegoing.”
Box Office Reporter • email@example.com • Twitter: @jeremyfuster