‘M3GAN’ Is First Box Office Hit of 2023 as ‘Avatar 2’ Crosses $500 Million Domestic

Universal and Blumhouse’s latest low-budget horror film rides glowing reviews to $27 million opening

"M3GAN" (Universal)

The first box office weekend of 2023 has brought the first hit of 2023 as Universal/Blumhouse’s campy killer doll horror film “M3GAN” is riding strong critics’ reviews to a $27 million opening while Disney/20th Century’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” stays No. 1 and crosses the $500 million mark in North America.

Made on a $12 million budget before marketing costs, “M3GAN” was projected for an opening weekend of $17-22 million from 3,509 locations and is now beating those expectations after critics praised the film for its self-aware dark humor, giving it a 94% Rotten Tomatoes score. Audience metrics haven’t been quite as strong with a B on CinemaScore and a 79% audience RT rating, though it is rare for any horror film to have exceptionally high metrics.

As the only horror film in theaters, “M3GAN” now has a chance to leg out with younger audiences after becoming the first movie released on the first weekend of the year to open to over $20 million since “Insidious: The Last Key” in 2018. Score it as another victory for original low-budget horror after the success of fellow Blumhouse release “The Black Phone” ($164 million worldwide) and Paramount’s “Smile” ($216.1 million) in 2022.

Of course, “M3GAN” is still second to “Avatar: The Way of Water,” which is currently estimated to earn a strong $42 million in its fourth weekend and push its domestic total to $514 million. If the weekend total can stretch up to $44 million, “Avatar 2” will have surpassed the domestic run of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” in 2019-20.

With legs as strong as the original “Avatar” 13 years ago both domestically and internationally, “Avatar 2” is on pace to pass the $718 million total of “Top Gun: Maverick” and become the sixth film in history to gross $2 billion worldwide, although it initially appeared doubtful that it would hit the latter mark when COVID-19 outbreaks sandbagged the film’s release in China. But a strong performance in several other key markets like France, South Korea and India have kept overseas grosses historically high.

Universal/DreamWorks Animation’s “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” is in third with $12.5 million grossed in its third weekend, giving the $90 million film an $87 million domestic total. Theatrical profits will likely remain minimal for this film as it will fall short of last year’s $402 million total for “Sing 2,” but it is set to at least reach the break-even point and the $100 million domestic mark while turning a profit from post-theatrical streams like digital on-demand.

The other new entrant to the Top 5 aside from “M3GAN” is Sony’s “A Man Called Otto,” a Tom Hanks-starring remake of the Oscar-nominated Swedish dramedy “A Man Called Ove” that expanded into 637 locations after a platform release last weekend. Sony estimates that the film will gross $3.6 million this weekend as it plans to expand the film further next weekend.