Weekend Box Office (December 16 - 18, 2022)

by Gitesh Pandya

THIS WEEKEND One of the most highly anticipated motion pictures of the year finally arrived as James Cameron's epic sci-fi sequel Avatar: The Way of Water opened at number one with an estimated $134M in North America and $435M globally.

Some had expected more in the domestic market, however the road ahead is extremely promising given stellar word-of-mouth and the upcoming holiday calendar when moviegoers will become more available. Domestically the new Avatar pic tied The Batman for the fifth biggest opening of the year behind Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness ($187.4M), Black Panther: Wakanda Forever ($181.3M), Jurassic World: Dominion ($145.1M) and Thor: Love And Thunder ($144.2M).

The mighty weekend for Water kicked off with $53M on Friday including $17M from Thursday pre-shows that began early at 3pm. Saturday dipped only 16% to $44.5M and Sunday is projected by Disney to drop 18% to $36.5M. 13 years ago when Fox released the first Avatar, the final weekend gross of $77M ended up rising $4M from the weekend estimate of $73M.

4,202 domestic locations played the new Pandora adventure with the weekend average coming out to a sturdy $31,890. Audiences were attracted to the premium screen options thanks to Cameron's reputation for delivering unique 3D visuals. 3D screens accounted for 57% of the gross while all premium screens represented 62% of the gross. These are huge numbers by today's standards. By comparison, 3D shares earlier this year were 14% for Doctor Strange and 11% for Thor.

While not sensational, reviews for the new Avatar were very positive and helped to boost interest in a franchise that for many seemed old. The die-hard franchise fans were always going to come out but pulling in a broader audience is key to reaching profitability on a project estimated to cost about $400M to produce. But the film did account for 89% of all sales in the top ten this weekend.

Word of mouth was even better. The A grade from CinemaScore matched its predecessor and the 94% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes bodes well for the road ahead. Even PostTrak polling came in super at 5 out of 5 stars. These are only slightly behind Top Gun: Maverick metrics (A+, 99%, 5/5). All this points to plenty of business ahead from those who didn't feel the need to rush out on opening weekend. Plus there is minimal action competition over the next four weeks.

2009's Avatar had a similar release calendar and it dipped only 2% on the second weekend for Christmas and then just 9% on the third weekend for New Year's. As a sequel, Water may not duplicate those numbers so larger drops are likely, but reaching $450M by the end of the long third weekend is certainly possible with all of January still to go. Oscar nominations that month could keep the party going too.

The overseas launch was everywhere and the estimate of $300.5M was a colossal start. Top international openings were China $57.1M, Korea $24.7M, Germany $19.9M, France $19.3M, and India at $18.1M which in a rare case beat out the UK (where the film's world premiere took place) which debuted to $14.2M.

China has been a volatile market of late. Weeks ago it looked like much of the country's theaters would still be on lockdown, then a quick reopening happened, and now a fast covid spread is once again closing some theaters and making many people rethink gathering in large indoor spaces with strangers. It remains to be seen how the days and weeks ahead will be in a market which loves this property so much. Regardless, the new Avatar by New Year's Day should become only the third movie of 2022 to break the one billion dollar global mark.

Following its five-week reign atop the box office, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever settled for second place with an estimated $5.4M, dropping 52%, giving the Marvel sequel $419M domestic to date. It's the second highest grossing movie of 2022 - so far - and with $367.5M overseas the global tally is now $786.5M.

The Santa thriller Violent Night held up well against the return of the Na'vi slipping 43% in its third weekend to an estimated $5M for $35M overall for Univesal.

Disney's animated flop Strange World followed with an estimated $2.2M, down 42%, for a dismal $33.8M cume after the fourth weekend. Totals at this point for recent Disney original Thanksgiving offerings were $81.5M for last year's Encanto (during the Omicron wave) and $150.7M for 2017's Coco.

The Ralph Fiennes suspense hit The Menu stayed in the top five for a fifth time with an estimated $1.7M, dropping 39%, putting the Searchlight film at $32.1M to date. Sony's military drama Devotion fell 59% to an estimated $825,000 putting the sum at $18.7M.

Steven Spielberg has struggled to sell tickets for his latest awards contender The Fabelmans which followed with an estimated $750,000 sliding 36%. Universal has been expanding the pic and is now in close to 1,000 theaters but has collected only $8.7M overall with this weekend's average hitting just $785.

Super hero action took eighth place with The Rock's big-budget entry Black Adam grossing an estimated $500,000 in its ninth weekend which coincided with its streaming release on HBOMax. Warner Bros. saw a steep 62% drop putting the domestic total at $167.7M. Overseas markets have kicked in $223M for a worldwide take of $391M which is underwhelming for a pricey project anchored by one of Hollywood's most bankable stars.

The Christmas carol film I Heard the Bells grossed an estimated $309,000 this weekend, down 59%, and raised its cume to $5M. Sam Mendes rounded out the top ten with his latest drama Empire of Light which expanded from 110 to 436 theaters and took in an estimated $235,000 for a very mild average of just $539. Cume to date is $472,000.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $150.9M which was down 46% from the same weekend a year ago when Spider-Man: No Way Home opened to a record $260M, but up 37% from pre-pandemic 2019 when Jumanji: The Next Level debuted to $59.3M.

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Last Updated: December 18, 2022 at 3:15PM ET

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