Box Office: ‘Avatar 2’ dominates Christmas ahead of ‘Babylon’ and ‘Puss in Boots’ sequels

It’s about to be Pandora’s birthday at the cinema. “Avatar: The Way of Water,” which opened strongly last weekend to $134 million, is poised to dominate the box office charts once again in its second outing.

James Cameron’s sci-fi sequel on Monday added $16 million, bringing its four-day domestic tally to $150 million. Internationally, the film collected $38.8 million on Monday, bringing its international total to $346.8 million and the worldwide result to $497.1 million. By Tuesday, it will be one of eight films this year to cross $500 million worldwide and by the end of the year, the $350 million budget aims to hit the $1 billion mark.

Over its extended weekend, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is expected to be down 40% to 50% since its debut, putting ticket sales between $67 million and $80 million. It is also expected to continue posting large numbers during the days leading up to Christmas, which falls on Sunday.

With the release of “Avatar: The Way of Water,” Disney has crossed $4 billion at the global box office to date. Thanks to “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness ($955 million),” Black Panther: Wakanda Forever ($789 million and counting) and “Thor: Love and Thunder,” the studio’s total is $4.049 billion. By comparison, Disney grossed a record $11 billion worldwide in 2019 with its many slasher deals including “Avengers: Endgame” and “The Lion King.”

This time around, “Avatar 2” has a little more competition on theaters’ cartridges. Three major films — Damien Chazelle’s compelling show-stopping epic “Babylon,” Universal’s “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” and Sony’s Whitney Houston biopic “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” — will open, but they’re not expected to deliver Avatar 2. Lots of fighting for the lead. Overall, it’s a lighter-than-usual Christmas season, much to the disappointment of cinema owners.

The Puss in Boots sequel, set in the world of Shrek, is expected to secure the best start among newcomers, with projections of $25 million to $30 million from 4,000 theaters in North America. It’s hopping on the weekends by opening on Wednesdays when the kids are on winter break. The higher ratings end wouldn’t be far from the original “Puss in Boots,” which opened at $34 million in 2011. The first “Shrek” sequel eventually grossed $554 million worldwide, enough to merit a sequel.

Already, the animated adventure about curvy cats has generated $14 million from 25 international markets. It will open in 28 additional markets, including China, Mexico and Spain, over the weekend.

With the exception of Universal and Illumination’s “Minions: The Rise of Gru” and its global tally of $939 million, family movies have suffered greatly in times of the pandemic. Puss in Boots 2, which cost $90 million to produce, appears to benefit from a lack of competition during the rest of the year. The next major movie aimed at younger audiences is the “Super Mario Bros.” , which will not open until April 2023.

“Babylon” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” will vie for third place with each film hoping to bring in $12-15 million between Friday and Monday.

“I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” which sees Naomi Ackie portraying the late pop icon Whitney Houston, is aimed at older females, another demographic that has been mostly reluctant to go to the movies. Reviews have been blocked as of Tuesday afternoon, so it’s unclear how critical sentiment will affect turnout. It cost $45 million to produce. Recent musical compositions, such as “Elvis,” “Rocketman,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” resonated at the box office, though Aretha Franklin’s story “Respect” struggled to catch on in theaters in times of the pandemic.

The R-rated “Babylon,” which stars Margot Robbie and Brad Pitt as Hollywood stars amidst a rapidly changing industry, cost $78 million to produce, so it’ll have to keep up the momentum through award season to justify its price. Otherwise, it could be the latest adult-driven drama to flop at the box office. The movie won’t open internationally until January. If it misses the mark, however, it will be the only blemish in Paramount’s stellar year at the box office, with hits ranging from Top Gun: Maverick to the creepy thriller “Smile.”

“Babylon” generated mixed reviews, with some critics praising its ambition and glamor, and others criticizing the muddled plot. At three hours and nine minutes, its runtime will limit performances and perhaps deter audiences. But hey, at least it’s shorter than “Avatar: The Way of Water.”

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