Updated Dec 18, 2022 - Economy

"Avatar: The Way of Water" clocking in below initial earnings expectations

A scene from "Avatar: The Way of Water."

A scene from "Avatar: The Way of Water." Photo: Disney

“Avatar: The Way of Water” dominated the U.S. box office over the weekend, earning $134 million in the U.S. and Canada to make the movie the top grosser ahead of the Christmas holiday weekend.

Why it matters: The weekend earnings are slightly below expectations for the long-awaited sequel from director James Cameron, who previously suggested the film needs to make billions in order to break even.

Details: “Avatar: The Way of Water” opened across 4,202 theaters this weekend, including previews on Thursday night.

  • In addition to $53 million earned domestically Friday, the film earned $15.8 million for its first-day sales across 15 different markets, per Deadline.
  • The opening night domestic returns rank sixth highest for first-day domestic grossing 2022, Variety reports.
  • Worldwide, the movie has grossed $435 million, with $310 million of that tally from overseas showings, Variety reports.
  • "The Way of Water" dethroned another Disney film, "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever," which has been the top earner at the box office since its release on Nov. 11. "Wakanda Forever" has earned $418 million in U.S. ticket sales.

Context: The original "Avatar" — released in 2009 — earned $26.7 million on its opening night before earning $77 million through its opening weekend.

The big picture: All signs on Friday and Saturday pointed toward "The Way of Water" clocking in slightly below estimates, which said the film would earn between $150-$170 million over its opening weekend.

  • Several Marvel and Hollywood blockbusters in 2022 earned more on their opening night compared to "The Way of Water," including “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” ($90.7 million), “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” ($84.2 million) and “The Batman” ($56.6 million).
  • Last year, "Spider-Man: No Way Home" earned $121.5 million on its opening night in December 2021, which was the second-highest-grossing opening day ever. The film ended up earning $260.1 million from its entire opening weekend.
  • Following earnings reports from Thursday previews and Friday's opening day box office, Disney revised the sequel's weekend earnings total to fall between $130 and $150 million, Bloomberg reports.

What we're watching: Cameron told GQ that the "Avatar" sequel was so expensive that the movie would need "to be the third or fourth highest-grossing film in history" to break even.

  • The fourth highest-grossing movie in history is "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," which earned $2.1 billion at the box office, Axios' Troy Smith reports.
  • Cameron said that the future of his franchise will depend on how "The Way of Water" performs.

Yes, but: People are at least enjoying the film. "The Way of Water" currently has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 78% from critics and a 94% from audiences.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated with the latest box office earnings.

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