$134 million just falls short of expectations

Avatar: The Way of Water

Courtesy: Disney Co.

James Cameron’s Avatar: The Way of Water fell short of the box office’s high expectations, but international box office sales are raising hope that the long-awaited sequel could still make significant global headway.

The film grossed $134 million at the domestic box office in its opening weekend, less than the $175 million that industry analysts had predicted and just under the $135 million to $150 million range Disney had forecast.

The film is bound with Warner Brothers’ The Batman, which also grossed $134 million on its domestic opening in March, the fifth-highest opening of the year, according to data from Comscore.

Internationally, Way of Water grossed $300.5 million, bringing the film’s opening weekend earnings to $434.5 million.

“Because most people love the film, the sugar rush from that craze has inspired some opening weekend predictions that historical data and various headwinds for the film do not support,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. “However, ‘The Way Of Water’ has many factors in its favor that ensure its long-term prospects for massive global success.”

China accounted for $57.1 million in ticket sales for the three-day opening weekend.

The Chinese box office contributed roughly $265 million to Avatar’s global success a decade ago, but the market has grown significantly since then. Before the pandemic, China was the second highest cinema market in the world. Since cinemas reopened in the country, it’s one of the fastest recovering and box office-generating markets.

In 2009, China’s total box office gross reached US$910 million. A decade later, it surpassed $8 billion.

Box office analysts aren’t worried about the film’s smaller-than-expected domestic box office, especially given its international streak. The original Avatar, released in 2009, grossed just $77 million in its opening weekend but became the highest-grossing film of all time. It retains this title thanks to several re-releases.

The first film had incredible box office staying power and ran until August 2010, an incredible 234 days. “Avatar” ultimately grossed $760 million in the US and Canada and more than $2 billion in international markets during its initial theatrical run.

“Although the film starts at the low end of expectations, it’s important to reemphasize the long-term perspective,” said Shawn Robbins, chief media analyst at BoxOffice.com. “Audience shows a strong preference for watching the film in premium formats, taking into account the volatility noted in the pre-release projections.”

Robbins noted that the upcoming holiday corridor and a lack of competition in the market are positioning “The Way of Water” for a more backward box office than a typical blockbuster.

Premium formats, which include IMAX, Dolby Cinema and Motion auditoriums, accounted for 62% of all tickets sold. A whopping 57% of that was accounted for by 3D tickets. Premium format tickets are more expensive than traditional tickets.

According to data from EntTelligence, 3D tickets to The Way of Water cost an average of $16.55 each, while 2D tickets cost $12.62 each.

“It is premature to qualify the film’s success at this time, especially given Cameron’s history of long runs at the global box office,” added Robbins.

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