“Avatar: The Way of Water” is looking forward to an opening weekend of more than $170 million

James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” is widely expected to make its first $100 million opening weekend — and industry watchers estimate the film will gross over $170 million in domestic markets this weekend. .

“The hype around this movie is off the charts,” comScore senior analyst Paul Dergarabedian told Yahoo Finance Live. Dergarabedian said that positive word-of-mouth, along with strong reviews (the film has a score of 81% on Rotten Tomatoes), should help alleviate concerns surrounding the 3-hour, 12-minute running time.

The original “Avatar,” released in 2009, grossed just $77 million in its opening weekend before earning $2.74 billion worldwide, becoming the highest-grossing movie of all time.

Current pre-sale trends suggest the sequel will follow a similar path.

Director James Cameron arrives at the world premiere of Avatar: The Way of Water in London, Britain, December 6, 2022. REUTERS/Toby Melville

According to box office analytics platform EntTelligence, preview night and opening day account for just 53% of sales in its opening weekend — a positive sign for long-term success because it means the film isn’t “front-loaded” and should garner sustained interest over time.

By comparison, 70% or more of opening weekend showings for superhero films come from preview night and opening day. The platform noted that anything below 70% is a strong indicator of success.

“The film industry needs this film now,” Dhargarabedian affirmed. “We’ve had a slow post-summer period. ‘Wakanda Forever’ has been at No. 1 for five straight weekends, and now we’re looking for ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ to take over that mantle.”

Investors will be watching the theatrical stock closely in the wake of the movie’s release. Shares of IMAX (IMAX) are down nearly 20% so far this year compared to an excess 30% decline for Cinemark (CNK) and a drop of more than 75% for AMC Entertainment (AMC).

The stakes couldn’t be higher.

The Avatar sequel carried a reported production budget of over $250 million, which Cameron noted makes it “the worst business case in film history”, and should be the third or fourth highest-grossing film to break even.

“The stakes couldn’t be higher,” Dergarabedian said, noting that the film’s rare release in China would be a “huge benefit” as it looks to add dollars to the box office.

Box Office Welcomes Re-Release of Disney's Avatar (Courtesy: 20th Century Studios)

Box Office Welcomes Re-Release of Disney’s Avatar (Courtesy: 20th Century Studios)

The original “Avatar” relied heavily on overseas markets with more than $200 million of its $2.74 billion worldwide gross stemming from mainland China.

“This market has only grown since then,” Sean Robbins, senior analyst at Box Office Pro, previously told Yahoo Finance. “We’ve even seen multiple re-releases of this original movie make big bucks in China over the past few years. I really expect this to add quite a punch to the final result of Way of Water.”

One risk remains China’s COVID-free policy, though recent signs point to a softening in that stance from Beijing. Besides the lack of Hollywood-sanctioned films, China’s theatrical environment has posed a barrier for American films, with the country’s box office down 35% from the same point in 2021, according to data from consulting firm Artisan Gateway, cited by Variety.

“This just goes on the fuzzy side of predicting what’s going to happen in China — whether it’s box office related, government related, pandemic related, there are a lot of factors at play here,” Robbins said.

Alexandra is the chief media and entertainment correspondent for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter aliecanal8193 and email it to alexandra.canal@yahoofinance.com

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