‘Avatar: The Way Of Water’ Looks To Dive In With Half-Billion-Plus Global Opening Weekend – Box Office Preview

20th Century Studios, Avatar, Avatar: The Way of Water, Breaking News, Disney, Film News, James Cameron

And so it begins. Thirteen years after Avatar arrived in movie theaters, conquered and continued to conquer the global box office as the highest-grossing release of all time with $2.9 billion worldwide, James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water, the sequel to his triple-Oscar-winning 3D sci-fi movie arrives with a global outlook of $525M in what is Disney’s widest global release ever at 52K screens, surpassing Avengers: Endgame.

Broken out that’s $175M on the high end in U.S./Canada and $350M overseas. Some tracking has The Way of Water at $150M, and if the movie arrives at the low level, it’s not the end of the world. Read why further down. The offshore tickets sales are composed of $250M plus another $100M from China, always the variable market.

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Since Deadline first announced screenwriting team for the sequels in 2013, the 20th Century Studios movie has survived a huge public merger in Disney’s takeover of Fox and a rotation of studio executives who shepherded the film. A great touch of irony is how Bob Iger, who orchestrated the Disney-Fox merger with the Avatar franchise being one of many spoils, recently returned as CEO of the Mouse House.

You’ll remember that Sony’s Spider-Man: No Way Home decimated its projections last year. Sony predicted that the domestic opening for the Marvel Studios title would be $130M, the town called it at $175M-$200M, and the movie came in at $260.1M. The global projection was $290M-$350M, and No Way Home landed at $600M. Could that happen here with Avatar: The Way of Water?

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If it does happen at the domestic box office, it’s because families and parents and older adults decided to walk up and break from holiday activities in a pre-Christmas corridor. Despite being hot on tracking throughout all demos, the comp here for Avatar: The Way of Water given its older skewing fanbase are legacy franchise sequels Top Gun: Maverick ($126.7M) and Jurassic World: Dominion ($145M), not the Marvel movies. No Way Home overindexed on its opening weekend given moviegoers’ FOMO for what was the most connective and expansive piece of the MCU since Avengers: Endgame. Avatar: The Way of Water will be by appointment viewing. Meaning, moviegoers are going to want to see the movie under the best circumstances, read format and choice of seats, and will wait if they need to after the rush to indulge in this 3 hour and 12 minute feature.

If anything, average ticket prices are going up for Avatar: The Way of Water this weekend. Check out the average ticket price from last weekend vs. the various formats of the Cameron film, data from EntTelligence:

So if Avatar: The Way of Water comes in at the low-end, the expectation is that the movie will hold, which Cameron fare like Avatar and Titanic has been known to do. The question is to what degree. Can Avatar: Way of Water hold No. 1 beyond MLK weekend? Or will Gerard Butler’s Plane stand in its way? Word is Disney has a hold on big and premium auditoriums for the next five weekends. Arguably the next big movie on the calendar is, yup, Disney/Marvel Studio’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania on Feb. 17.

Domestic presales for Avatar: The Way of Water stand at an estimated $38M through yesterday, double that of Top Gun: Maverick and Jurassic World at the same point in time but behind Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which respectively opened to $181.3M and $187.4M. Seventy-four precent of the presales are for 3D showtimes and 15% of those advance ticket sales are for showtimes outside of opening weekend. The big chains are seeing a big proportion of advance ticket sales in Imax but not at the level of Marvel movies which is to be expected given the older adult nature of this property. Meaning, it’s typically the fanboys who pre-purchase their tickets.

The percentage of 3D presales abroad is phenomenal with Europe seeing 81%, Asia Pacific 70% and Latin America 65%.

Thursday previews in U.S./Canada start at 3PM. The weekend’s 4,100 theater count is made up of 280 4D/Dbox venues, 85 Screen X, 400 Imax 3D auditoriums, and 3,000 3D theaters. The review embargo just lifted following the Hollywood premiere last night and Rotten Tomatoes counts 81 reviews at 83% fresh. The original 2009 movie was 82% certified fresh.

The Way of Water begins its international rollout tomorrow, Wednesday, in such majors as France, Korea, Germany and Italy with some markets playing from midnight. China is also getting 3,000 preview showings at 7pm local time on Wednesday and Thursday each, ahead of its bow on Friday. Through Friday, the entire overseas landscape will be covered, including 52 material markets (the sequel, for ongoing geopolitical reasons, will not released in Russia). 

Following extended lockdowns and cinema closures, China has begun to open at a clip as the government moves away from its zero-Covid policies. About 80% of movie theaters are currently operating, although the level of comfort among audiences is as-yet unclear with virus outbreaks rising. We’re hearing there is concern about being in a closed space for three-plus hours now that restrictions have lifted. We’ll see if ticket prices become an issue as there’s chatter that exhibition is driving them up after such a long fallow period at the box office.

China presales have been robust with upwards of RMB 150M ($21.8M) through Sunday (Saturday’s are essentially flat with Friday’s which is a rare phenomenon but does complicate estimates).

Anticipation is titanic – premieres were held on Tuesday in Beijing and Shanghai, and social sentiment is high. Cameron is a rockstar in China, and the movie employs technology developed there. Last year’s reissue of the original Avatar added $57.7M to its local tally which stands at $261.8M; this week’s promotional rerelease on just 80 screens was quiet but increased on the second day.

We will continue to monitor China throughout the weekend and will revise estimates as is our practice.

In regards to overseas comps, there’s the first Avatar in its original release which did $170M in like-for-likes, Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($294M), Spider-Man: No Way Home ($320M) and Avengers: Infinity War ($503M). All of those figures are at today’s rates which have been hit hard by a strong dollar.

Among the top opening markets, we’re anticipating a mix of China, France, the UK Japan, Korea, Mexico, Germany and Brazil. World Cup football could take a bite out of action on Wednesday when France meets Morocco. Depending who ends up in the final on Sunday, some impact may also be felt. 

Cameron and Landau have been updating on the progress of Avatar 2 for months, and, along with cast, kicked off a global tour last week in London where a photo call, press junket and conference were held ahead of the world premiere in Leicester Square on Tuesday night. They then traveled to Tokyo and Seoul.

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