'Avatar: The Way of Water' is set to crush the box office. It won't be enough to salvage 2022 for theaters.

'Avatar: The Way of Water' is set to crush the box office. It won't be enough to salvage 2022 for theaters.
  • "Avatar: The Way of Water" is on pace for a solid box-office debut.

  • It will need strong legs over the next few months to be as big as the first movie.

  • Even if it breaks records, 2022 will still be a troubling year for the movie industry.

"Avatar: The Way of Water" is arriving when theaters need it most, as experts predict the film will liven up a sleepy box office.

The first "Avatar," which debuted 13 years ago, is the highest-grossing movie ever, with $2.9 billion worldwide. In order to break even, the massively expensive sequel, which debuts next week, will have to become one of the top four movies of all time, according to director James Cameron.

Based on initial critic reactions and analyst projections, it might actually be able to live up to those expectations. People who have seen the movie early have called it a "visual masterpiece" and a "staggering achievement."

"So much is riding on 'Avatar: The Way Of Water,' and thankfully the early reaction to the film is off the charts," Paul Dergarabedian, Comscore's senior media analyst, told Insider. "This is great news for theaters that have been looking for a proper blockbuster to take us out of 2022 and into 2023 with some much-needed box office momentum."

Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Box Office Pro, thinks "The Way of Water" could open in the US with between $150 million and $180 million, which would be more than the first movie's opening weekend of $77 million.

But "Avatar" wasn't a massive success because of its opening weekend. It had impressively strong legs throughout its nearly eight-month initial theatrical run — an unheard of amount of time for a movie to play in theaters today. Its box office dropped just 2% in its second weekend, for instance.

If "The Way of Water" can carry similar momentum week-to-week, it will make most of its money in 2023 — a good way to start the new year after a troubling 2022 for the film industry.

The theatrical market has shown few signs of a recovery coming out of the pandemic — the biggest being the performance of "Top Gun: Maverick," which is currently the highest-grossing movie of the year both in the US and worldwide.

Comscore is projecting the US box office to end the year with $7.2 billion — a vast improvement from last year's $4.5 billion, but still far below the $11 billion-plus that the US box office totaled every year from 2015 through 2019.

When "The Way of Water" debuts, it will be the first major blockbuster in over a month, since "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever," and it will be the last until "Ant-Man and the Wasp" in February.

The cadence of big debuts shows just how few movies are being released on a consistent basis compared to before the pandemic. There have been 37 fewer wide releases in theaters through December 5 this year than in 2019, Dergarabedian said.

"The lack of movies has put a dent in the domestic revenue, so any movie that can punch above its weight so to speak is most-welcomed to the multiplex," Dergarabedian said.

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