‘Avatar’ series tops ratings, but theater executives are unimpressed: ‘Moviegoers are waiting’

Disney’s (DIS) director James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” delivered its first $100 million opening weekend — but it didn’t miss industry expectations of over $170 million.

The long-awaited sequel, which runs for 3 hours and 12 minutes, has grossed nearly $134 million in the domestic markets – tied with Warner Bros. Pictures. (WBD) “Batman” is the fifth-highest-grossing opening of 2022, according to Comscore data. Disney, which saw shares down 3% in early trading Monday, forecast a $135 million to $150 million range.

International markets helped boost the film to $434.5 million after it took in $300.5 million overseas.

Richard Gelfond, CEO of IMAX (IMAX), told Yahoo Finance: “’Avatar: The Way or Water’ is an incredible movie with an A CinemaScore and fantastic word of mouth, and based on our strong presales over the coming weeks, it’s a safe bet that Many moviegoers are waiting until the holidays to enjoy the best possible cinematic experience – that is, IMAX.”

The executive added, “James Cameron’s films have a well-known history of long legs at the global box office, and we expect this film to be no different.”

The film grossed over $48.8 million in global IMAX ticket sales over the weekend, breaking the record for the biggest December opening of all time. It is also the second-highest-grossing opening in IMAX history (the original Avatar is first on the list), with 11.2% of moviegoers choosing to see the film on IMAX screens.

Still, IMAX shares remained under pressure in early trading Monday, down nearly 3%. Theatrical news giants AMC Entertainment (AMC) and Cinemark (CNK) also fell, dropping about 5% and 6%, respectively.

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.

According to box office analytics platform EntTelligence, the sequel should follow similar trends. Preview night and opening day account for just 53% of sales in its opening weekend – a positive sign for long-term success, as it suggests the film isn’t “front-loaded” and may maintain interest over time.

By comparison, 70% or more of the weekend that superhero movies take in typically comes from preview night and opening day. The platform noted that anything below 70% is a strong indicator of potential sustainable success.

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

The Avatar sequel carried a 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,” comScore analyst Paul Dergarabedian told Yahoo Finance earlier, noting that the rare film’s release in China would be a “huge benefit” as it looks to add dollars to the box office.

The top overseas market for the sequel was China, with opening weekend ticket sales of $57.1 million. However, that number was starkly below estimates of over $100 million as industry insiders reassess what the film’s eventual performance will look like in the country.

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-approved 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.

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

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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