‘M3GAN’ Surprises Box Office With $30 Million Opening as ‘Avatar 2’ Hits $1.7 Billion Worldwide

Universal scores the first $30 million-plus January horror opening since 2012

"M3GAN" (Universal Pictures)

Universal/Blumhouse’s darkly comedic horror film “M3GAN” has surpassed all expectations with a $30.2 million opening weekend from 3,509 theaters, providing critical support for the box office in the month ahead as Disney/20th Century’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” continues its push to a $2 billion global total.

Directed by Gerald Johnstone and co-produced by James Wan and his Atomic Monster Productions, “M3GAN” hit theaters with surprisingly strong reviews, earning a 94% Rotten Tomatoes score with critics praising the film’s mix of scares, dark humor and knowingly absurd tone.

As a result, the film caught the attention of horror buffs and younger moviegoers, with 62% of the film’s opening weekend crowd coming from the 18-35 demographic and 53% being female. Audience metrics were fairly positive with a B on CinemaScore and a 79% Rotten Tomatoes audience score, consistent with most horror titles.

Prior to opening weekend, “M3GAN” had been projected for an opening weekend of $17-22 million, which would have been enough to ensure profitability against the film’s $12 million budget. Instead, “M3GAN” is now the first horror film to earn an opening of at least $30 million since the critically panned “The Devil Inside” in 2012 and could potentially leg out to a $90-100 million domestic total if word-of-mouth keeps spreading. With $14.2 million grossed from 35 overseas markets so far, “M3GAN” has an early global total of $45 million.

“M3GAN” should serve as much needed support for movie theaters as it tries to get through what is expected to be a slow January. It has pushed overall weekend totals to around $107 million, a 70% improvement from the $62 million overall total seen in the first weekend of 2022 but still down from the $139 million earned in the first weekend of 2019.

Of course, “Avatar: The Way of Water” will continue to be the main draw in January. Disney/20th Century has announced that the film has passed the $1.7 billion mark and now stands seventh on the all-time box office charts before inflation adjustment, with $517 million coming from the U.S. and Canada after it added $45 million in its fourth weekend.

At this pace, “Avatar 2” is now a virtual lock to pass the $1.91 billion total of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” to become the highest grossing film since the pandemic began and then become the sixth film in history to gross $2 billion worldwide. Its worldwide fourth weekend total of $177.6 million is just a 30% drop from New Year’s weekend, 24% when COVID-stricken China is excluded.

In fact, 21 countries reported an increase in weekend grosses compared to New Year’s weekend, particularly in South American countries like Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina and Peru. The film crossed the $100 million mark in France with a $107 million total, while Germany is close to that mark with a $92 million total. On the premium front, Imax grosses have now reached $122 million, putting it among Imax’s Top 5 highest grossing films ever.

Universal/DreamWorks’ “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” is third with $13.1 million grossed in its third weekend, giving it a total of $87.7 million domestic and $197.4 million worldwide. The $90 million animated film should at least break even theatrically, though most of its profit will likely come from post-theatrical revenue streams.

In fourth is Sony’s “A Man Called Otto,” a dramedy starring Tom Hanks that expanded to 637 theaters and has earned $4.2 million this weekend. Sony will expand the film nationwide next weekend. Marvel’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” completes the Top 5 with $3.3 million, bringing its total to $445 million domestic and $828 million globally ahead of a Disney+ release on Feb. 1.

Outside the Top 5, A24’s “The Whale” continues to perform respectably in limited release, adding $1.5 million from 714 theaters to bring its domestic total to $8.9 million. The Brendan Fraser-starring drama posted a slightly higher weekend total than Paramount’s bomb “Babylon,” which had a wider screen count of 2,381 locations but added $1.43 million in its third weekend, bringing the $78 million film’s total to just $13.5 million.