James Cameron’s history-making $2+ billion sci-fi sequel Avatar: The Way of Water will cross yet another major milestone this week, becoming the fourth-highest grossing film in cinema history and making Cameron the only filmmaker with three movies among the all-time five biggest blockbusters.
Avatar: The Way of Water should sail past #5 all-time grosser Avengers: Infinity War and #4 Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens by Thursday and top $2.1 billion over the weekend, to sit at roughly $2.12+/- billion by close of business Sunday, depending on this week’s holds and turnout in China over the Lunar New Year holidays (during which new local films will dominate theater space and attendance).
Last weekend, Cameron’s blockbuster sequel sent heaping helpings of crow for all the naysayers to chow down on, when it crossed the remarkable $2 billion figure after over a month in theaters.
From here, Avatar: The Way of Water should make a run toward $2.2 billion, after which it becomes hard to predict what shape its final cume will take.
This is the final weekend in which Avatar 2 faces no significant competition for the top spot at the weekly box office. Knock at the Cabin opens the following weekend as February gets underway, and then we’ll see Titanic returning to theaters for its 25th anniversary remastered in 4K HDR 3D, as well as Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania taking control of theaters as the new blockbuster in town.
So while Avatar: The Way of Water has enjoyed several weeks of open territory at the box office to dominate viewership and accrue a mountain of receipts, things get more challenging in February and those heretofore impressive strong weekly holds will taper off quickly in the face of increased loss of screens and big new releases.
However, I still expect the Avatar sequel to have enough momentum and repeat business to carry it to $2.2 billion. From there, we’ll see how much longer it stays afloat, but at the risk of underestimating a film that’s already been constantly underestimated, I don’t see a path to $2.3 billion at this point unless some miraculous external factors come into play.
A few examples (and a demonstration of how unlikely it appears to be) of what might happen to boost the film over the $2.3 billion line: China’s homegrown releases flop and audiences flock to Avatar: The Way of Water instead, Titanic’s re-release galvanizes public interest in seeing The Way of Water one last time before it leaves theaters, Ant-Man and the Wasp underperforms and audiences seek out Avatar 2 to sooth their frustrated appetite for big beloved blockbuster spectacle, and/or the Covid pandemic plus war in Europe and other social/political factors align perfectly to decrease resistance and concerns about going to theaters and actually motivate the public to seek celebratory spectacle entertainment en mass.
So you see, then, that at the current pace it appears highly unlikely we’ll see Avatar: The Way of Water cross $2.3 billion.
Why does that matter? Because how far past $2.2 billion the Avatar sequel winds up will likely determine whether it passes Titanic on the all-time box office charts as the third-highest grossing movie ever made.
Titanic is getting its own lift this month, as already noted, from a re-release and entirely new theatrical experience. And before you ask “who cares?” or suggest it won’t make much of a splash, I refer you back to any thoughts you had about Avatar: The Way of Water’s ability to top $2+ billion.
We’re past the point of seriously doubting the ability of these Cameron films to perform beyond our expectations. It’s not a coincidence the same filmmaker has this many of the top-grossing movies in cinema history — his films speak to audiences in ways most others don’t, it’s that simple, even when it’s a period-piece historical drama or an original sci-fi fantasy story.
Remember when everyone chuckled in anticipation of the 2009 Avatar’s re-release this year ahead of The Way of Water’s debut? Remember how that turned out? Never doubt Cameron’s films’ ability to recapture audience imagination and drive them to theaters. Even when it’s a relatively modest turnout, it translates into tens of millions of dollars per weekend, even for 13 year old films that supposedly had no cultural impact and supposedly left no significant public desire to see more.
So I expect Titanic to do mighty business when it returns next month, setting up a Cameron vs Cameron battle for the #3 position on the all-time worldwide box office charts. I think Titanic will do such strong business it will be just out of reach for Avatar: The Way of Water.
Amusingly, either way we technically risk underestimating one Cameron film or the other, so maybe they’ll tie for third place just to teach us all a lesson.
Be sure to check back soon for more updates on Avatar: The Way of Water’s box office and other films opening in the coming weeks and months. And if you’re going to theaters this week, please be sure to mask up to protect not only yourself but also others around you who might be at greater risk of serious health outcomes or even death from Covid, post-Covid complications, and the flu. Stay safe, dear readers!
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