‘Avatar 2’ Nears $1.4 Billion at Global Box Office as 2023 Begins

Disney/20th Century’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” is in position to become the highest-grossing release of 2022 in the first week of 2023, with industry estimates projecting a domestic 4-day weekend of $82 million and a global weekend of $269 million to bring its total to $440 million domestic and $1.39 billion worldwide through Monday.

After winter storms weighed down moviegoing in much of North America during Christmas weekend, New Year’s weekend is showing signs that “Avatar 2” is demonstrating the legs that made its 2009 predecessor the highest-grossing film of all time. While industry estimates have slipped from the $87 million 4-day predicted after Friday, an $82 million result is still just a 14% drop from the film’s $95.5 million extended Christmas weekend.

At its current pace, “The Way of Water” will pass $1.5 billion worldwide sometime in the coming week, passing the $1.48 billion total of “Top Gun: Maverick” and becoming one of the top 10 highest-grossing films of all time. With a reported production budget of more than $400 million before an expansive global marketing campaign, “Avatar 2” was in a position where it needed to at least join that all-time top 10 to be theatrically profitable.

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We will get a sense of how far it can go beyond that next weekend, as the holiday period ends and the theatrical market enters what is expected to be a slow period for new releases until the arrival of “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” on Feb. 17. If the fourth weekend drop is anywhere within the range of the 26% drop of the first “Avatar” on the weekend of Jan. 8, 2010, not just in the U.S. but in other major markets, a final global total north of $2 billion may be back within reach despite the COVID outbreaks that have damaged the Chinese box office.

In second place on the charts is Universal/DreamWorks’ “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” which is keeping hopes alive of turning a theatrical profit even though it won’t come near the $555 million global total of the first “Puss in Boots” from October 2011.

The animated sequel has received sustained turnout from families over the past week now that the winter storms have subsided, with the 4-day domestic weekend increasing 13% over Christmas weekend to $21.7 million. Through Sunday, “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish” has totals of $60.7 million domestic and $129.5 million worldwide against a budget of $90 million.

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So far, “Puss in Boots 2” is approximately 33% behind the domestic pace of Universal/Illumination’s “Sing 2,” which was released last holiday season and grossed $90 million domestic around New Year’s weekend, going on to finish with a $162 million domestic/$402 million global total.

“Puss in Boots 2” will almost certainly fall short of that total, but still has a chance to leg out as another family animated title won’t come until Universal releases Illumination’s “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” in early April. Theatrical profits will likely be minimal at best, but Universal may see the film turn a bigger profit from digital on-demand sales, which insiders at the studio claim saw an increase in 2022.

Marvel’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is in third on the charts with $6.5 million grossed over the 4-day weekend. After eight weekends in theaters, its totals now stand at $440 million domestic and $820 million worldwide through Monday.

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“Wakanda Forever” is beating out two struggling Christmas weekend releases: Sony’s “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and Paramount’s “Babylon.” “I Wanna Dance” is currently estimated to earn $5.4 million over four days this weekend, giving the $45 million co-financed music biopic a total of $16 million domestic after two weekends.

“Babylon,” the $78 million budgeted period dramedy from Damien Chazelle, completes the top 5 with $3.6 million grossed over four days, giving it a poor two-weekend total of $11 million. Polarizing critics and its meager audience with its three-hour runtime filled with gross-out moments and debaucherous behavior amidst its rise-and-fall-from-stardom story in 1920s Hollywood, “Babylon” is clinging to hope that the overseas rollout that will begin during awards season will mitigate its likely financial loss.

Finally, A24’s “The Whale” is continuing a decent run in just 623 theaters nationwide, adding $1.7 million over four days to bring its total to $6.2 million. The Darren Aronofsky-directed drama is earning awards buzz for Brendan Fraser, who stars as a morbidly obese college professor trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter.