‘Avatar 2’ Faces Its Next Challenge in Race to $2 Billion: the Post-Holiday Box Office

Disney/20th Century’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” has passed “Top Gun: Maverick” to become the highest grossing release of 2022. This weekend, as the box office moves into the post-holiday period, we will see just how far the blockbuster sequel can extend its legs.

“Avatar 2” should easily take No. 1 again at the box office this coming weekend as the sole new wide release, Universal/Blumhouse’s “M3GAN,” is projected for an opening weekend of $17-22 million buoyed by strong interest from female moviegoers under 25. Given Blumhouse’s low-budget strategy, that should be more than enough to lead to a profitable theatrical run even with “Avatar 2” serving as major holdover competition.

But the main focus will be on James Cameron’s big blue titan, which has grossed $447 million domestic and $1.44 billion worldwide after New Year’s weekend. “M3GAN” will arguably be the most high-profile new release between now and Marvel Studios’ “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” in mid-February, so the road is open for “The Way of Water” to make a run at a $2 billion worldwide total.

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That $2 billion is even remotely possible just shows how much of a global hit “Avatar” is after 13 years of being on the shelf. Prior to release, it was expected that the film would need strong numbers from China to reach that rare milestone; and when COVID-19 surges kneecapped movie theaters in the major Asian market, it seemed more likely that the final total for “Avatar 2” would probably be somewhere between $1.75 billion and $2 billion, in the neighborhood of the $1.9 billion total that “Spider-Man: No Way Home” legged out to a year ago.

But that could all change depending on the numbers this weekend. With people going back to work and kids going back to school after the holiday break, there will likely be a weaker weekend-to-weekend hold than what “Avatar 2” demonstrated between Christmas and New Year’s weekends.

That is what happened with the first “Avatar” in early 2010, but its holds were still incredibly strong for a holiday release in early January. After a Christmas to New Year’s weekend drop of 9%, it had a 26% drop on the weekend of Jan. 8, going on to never have a weekend drop of more than 40% for the next two months.

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We’ve seen with “No Way Home” and “Top Gun: Maverick” how a film that stokes the desire of millions of people around the world to see it on the big screen multiple times can make money in theaters for months, even in an era where streaming has killed the 90-day theatrical window as a common practice.

A Friday through Sunday hold for “Avatar 2” this weekend of less than 50% — which would be at least $35 million — would be a positive result. But if the hold is under 30%, or $45 million, then the film is extremely likely to have a domestic total of at least $650 million and quite possibly reach even $700 million by the time “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” is released.

At that point, “The Way of Water” will likely see its weekend totals significantly drop, but combined with likely strong continued grosses overseas, where box office totals from South Korea, France, and Germany are all expected to exceed $100 million, a scenario forms in which James Cameron becomes the first filmmaker ever to direct three $2 billion box office hits.