Dec 16, 2022 - Economy & Business

"Avatar: The Way of Water" reviews could push it to box office gold

Tuk (Trinity Bliss) in "Avatar: The Way of the Water." (20th Century Studios/Disney)

Tuk (Trinity Bliss) in a scene from "Avatar: The Way of Water." Photo: Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

Early reaction to "Avatar: The Way of Water" suggests director James Cameron's $2 billion bet on a sequel to the highest-grossing film of all time could pay off.

Driving the news: "The Way of Water" opened in theaters nationwide on Thursday and has a positive Rotten Tomatoes score of 80% from critics who saw early screenings.

  • The film has a 94% audience score on the site from fans who have seen it.

Why it matters: Cameron claims the sequel will need to earn $2 billion globally just to break even.

  • Only five films, including the first "Avatar," have earned $2 billion at the global box office.

What they're saying: "Cameron has a reputation of over-delivering on expectations and making movies that appeal to the masses, including infrequent moviegoers," Boxoffice Pro analyst Shawn Robbins tells Axios.

By the numbers: "Avatar: The Way of Water" is projected to earn $450 million–$550 million worldwide during its opening weekend, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Reality check: Many people are still hesitant to head back to theaters post-pandemic, according to an August survey by S&P Global.

  • The survey showed the percentage of infrequent moviegoers (who attend theaters once a month or less) is still down 15% from 2019.
  • The percentage of adults who say they never go to the movies is up to 46% compared to 31% in 2019, when "Avengers: Endgame" became the last film to surpass $2 billion.

Yes, but: Huge box office success is still possible during the pandemic.

  • "Spider-Man: No Way Home" earned more than $1.9 billion in 2021, while "Top Gun: Maverick" is approaching a $1.5 billion worldwide gross this year.

The bottom line: Cameron told Variety he's prepared to give up on "Avatar," which has three more sequels planned, if "The Way of Water" isn't successful.

  • "We'll see how this sequel goes," says Robbins. "But there's no doubt these movies are going to be important to the industry over the next decade."

Go deeper: The highest-grossing films of all time

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